Most Americans alive today weren’t even born when Rosalynn Carter and her husband Jimmy left the White House in 1981. Like most First Ladies, Rosalynn Carter is primarily (and unfairly) known as the extension of her husband. But, after her death this past weekend at age 96, it’s worth remembering that Rosalynn Carter dedicated her life to humanitarian causes, especially mental health, in the process helping LGBTQ+ people.
By all accounts, Rosalynn was more than just a loving spouse – she was a smart and tough political advisor, which earned her the nickname “the Steel Magnolia.” One of her main roles in the White House was to actively push for the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have amended the Constitution to prohibit gender discrimination.
Jimmy Carter was a trailblazer, and he’s finally getting recognized as one.
The ERA became a lightning rod for the right wing, which saw it as challenging traditional gender roles. The right’s effort to stop the ERA included outright homophobia, led by activist Phyllis Schlafly.
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Schlafly said that the ERA was an attempt by “lesbians, radicals, and federal employees” to create a“constitutional cure for their laziness and personal problems.” She claimed that the ERA would lead to “homosexual privileges,” including same-sex marriage. Schlafly successfully parlayed the ERA’s defeat into a decades-long effort to battle against LGBTQ+ rights.
Once out of the White House, Rosalynn Carter founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families dealing with the burdens of caregiving. The experience was a personal one for her. Her father died when she was 13, and she helped raise her younger siblings.
Among the Institute’s initiatives was to join with the Modern Military Association of America, a nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ service members, veterans, and their families, to ensure that all of the Institute’s caregiver support programs “are as inclusive as possible as well as identify opportunities to innovate to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ military caregivers of tomorrow.”
Carter’s other main cause was mental health. She was instrumental in the creation of the mental health program at the Carter Center, the foundation that has been the primary vehicle for the ex-president’s philanthropic efforts. The stated goal of the program is to promote awareness about mental health issues, inform public policy, and reduce discrimination against those with mental illness.
The Center’s work has included Carter Center’s Mental Health Program, which works to promote awareness about mental health issues, inform public policy, achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care, and reduce stigma and discrimination against those with mental illnesses. The Center has been inclusive in promoting the mental health needs of the LGBTQ+ community for decades.