Jennifer Morales was the first Latine person to be elected to the Milwaukee Public Schools board of directors, a position they held for eight years. One of their first acts on the board was to champion a policy requiring gender-neutral, inclusive family terminology on MPS forms, so that the city’s diverse families could see themselves represented at school. In their second term, they came out publicly as queer, in part to support the effort to stop the 2006 Wisconsin ballot referendum against marriage equality and to win domestic partner benefits for school employees.
After leaving public office, Morales pursued an MFA in Creative Writing, resulting in the publication of their first book, Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories, a collection of interconnected short stories about life in the hyper-segregated city. In 2014, after more than two decades in Milwaukee, Morales moved to rural Viroqua, in the Driftless Region of the state, to focus on their fiction writing and nonprofit work.
The 2016 election brought a new sense of vulnerability to rural queer life. Morales spent a sleepless election night fielding panicked phone calls from friends and family worried that this new president was likely to target LGBTQ+ people, women, people of color, and religious minorities. In the morning, they started the Driftless LGBTQ+ & Allies listserv, which has now reached more than 100 members, as well as a separate listserv for families with LGBTQ+ children.
In 2019, they helped found Viroqua Area Pride, whose inaugural event was a joyful, intergenerational festival that attracted more than 500 people. In subsequent Viroqua Pride fests, Morales has served on the security team and hosts the interdenominational Blessings Booth, which brings in LGBTQ+-affirming clergy to offer conversation, prayer, and blessings to those who request such support. As a former Sunday school teacher in the affirming United Church of Christ, the Blessings Booth offers Morales the opportunity to reassure LGBTQ+ people that God loves them just as they are.
Morales’ day job is serving as Director of Movement Learning & Culture Change at Family Values @ Work, a national paid leave advocacy organization. In that role, Morales has nurtured a cross-movement network of advocates called the Family Justice Network, to ensure that public policies define family in ways that include chosen family, queer families, and all the diverse ways families are composed in the US. This effort brings Morales full circle, back to that first policy they passed on the Milwaukee school board.
Although they keep busy with a big garden and paid and volunteer work, Morales still makes time for writing and helps run the Driftless Writing Center, bringing notable authors and writing teachers to their rural community.
2023 Pride in Color
The Champion: Chris Allen is President and CEO of Diverse & Resilient where he continues his vision and advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and health equity.
The Change Maker: Kaleb Hawj is a prominent trans leader in the Hmong Queer Feminist Movement and is shaping the way the Hmong community protects, celebrates, and loves Hmong LGBTQI+ people.
The Community Organizer: Jennifer Morales brings creativity and queer culture to rural life while making real change at the policy level for queer families nationwide.
The Role Model: Steph Tai is trying to help fight the fight against climate change.