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This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE

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Maya Rupert Black History Month 2012Maya Rupert

Age: 30

Place of Residence: Washington, D.C.

Why she is a local hero: Rupert, federal policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is working to bring equal rights in all areas of life to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population.

“For me, LGBT rights has always been about basic fairness and equality,” says Maya Rupert. “All people deserve the right to be who they are, and live their lives free from discrimination, harassment, and violence,” says Rupert.

Last year’s victory toward that goal was helping to convince the Obama Administration to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. This year, Rupert is working to make sure LGBTs receive the same protection against housing and employment discrimination as everyone else. Rupert’s commitment to civil rights comes from her family.

“I think that comes from my parents. As part of their efforts to teach us about black history and the Civil Rights Movement, they always taught me and my sister that the fight for equality of all marginalized communities are linked, and so to me, fighting for LGBT equality has always been part of a broader commitment to social justice and equality,” Rupert says. “My commitment became much stronger when my sister started identifying as queer. She and I are incredibly close – she’s the most amazing person I know – so that motivated me to actually make this fight my career.”

Rupert is optimistic that things are beginning to change. She is seeing a shift in the way people are thinking about the LGBT rights movement. The movement is also being portrayed differently in the media, with the breadth and diversity of the LGBT community is coming into full focus.

“I think the elevation of the stories of the more marginalized people in the community will show that issues of racial justice, economic issues, disability issues, violence against women – that these are all LGBT issues as well,” says Rupert.

For 2012, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement its new equal access rule. Under the new regulation, HUD would make sure all of its core housing programs are available to everyone regardless of “sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“I worked very closely with HUD on developing and drafting this rule, and the result is absolutely historic for the LGBT community,” says Rupert. “The rule will do some incredibly important things, including extending protections against housing discrimination to the LGBT community in all HUD-assisted and HUD-insured housing and will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status to crucially important HUD programs, like Section 8 housing.”

Other efforts in the pipeline include legislation to prevent bullying against students based on perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identification and immigration reform legislation that would allow LGBT citizens to sponsor their same sex partners for citizenship.

“I definitely think that long moral arc is starting to bend strongly toward justice for the community. I think that in the coming years, we are going to see more victories – in the courts, at the ballot box, and in the area of federal policy,” says Rupert.

Follow Rupert on Twitter at @MayaRupert.