Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Gutierrez Bill, Immigration Reform and Our Families

crossposted from the Immigration Equality Blog

Earlier today, Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced an immigration reform proposal in the House of Representatives that does not include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families. We pushed hard for inclusion in this bill, and we are deeply disappointed. However, I want to be clear: this is not the comprehensive immigration reform package which will move through the House. And, there are many reasons to remain optimistic about our inclusion in CIR down the road.

First, it is important to note that Congressman Gutierrez remains a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and the LGBT-inclusive Reuniting Families Act (RFA) in Congress. In the weeks and months leading up to the introduction of the Gutierrez bill, Immigration Equality pushed for inclusion of our families. When it became clear that this was not to be, we asked for the Congressman to continue to work for an end to immigration laws that discriminate against LGBT families, and we have every expectation that he will do so.

Second, this bill is not the large-scale, comprehensive immigration reform bill that is expected in Congress early next year. That bill is currently being written, and a number of our champions – including Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Mike Honda and Senator Patrick Leahy – continue to work to ensure that bill includes our families.

Third, some LGBT families will benefit from other provisions in this bill: for starters, those who have fallen out of status because they cannot be sponsored by their partners; LGBT detainees, who are too often victimized and discriminated against under our current system; those who need a path to citizenship in order to keep their family intact; and queer teenagers who have grown up and come out in this country but who have no future without a change in the law.

Immigration Equality will not rest until Congress passes LGBT-inclusive immigration reform. We continue to push – every day – for passage of the Uniting American Families Act, the Reuniting Families Act and every other possible victory for our families. Our strategy has been – and remains – to pursue every available avenue for success.

The bill introduced today is, for all of us, disappointing. But the immediate future remains hopeful. There are many more steps on our journey together – and in the Congressional process – and we remain confident that, in the end, our champions will stand with us, and immigration reform will include our families, too.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Meditation on AIDS and Silences

Though World AIDS Day ended a week ago, there's no end to the ways that the disease, treatments, and policies have affected our communities. And there are silences around HIV/AIDS that the LGBT communities have yet to break. From Federation member,Gunner Scott ED of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. read on

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

International AIDS Day

Tennessee Equality Project highlights Secretary of State Clinton's speech. She identifies discrimination as a major barrier to HIV treatment.

Empire State Pride Agenda does their morning sweep.

Equality Florida posts the President's Proclamation on World AIDS Day.

And Indiana Equality asks you to go shopping for equality. read on

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We'll Be Back, and We'll Win

crossposted from Equality North Carolina's blog

Waking up this morning to the news that Maine voters narrowly approved a measure overturning the marriage equality law passed by the legislature was a kick in the gut. The memory of California's Prop. 8 last year is still fresh.

My thoughts go out to all the families in Maine who will continue to be denied dignity and equality under the law. Many of us will need time to grieve over the fact that a majority of our fellow citizens would vote to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people their full civil rights.

And yet, I'm also encouraged by what happened in Maine. Just under half of voters — tens of thousands of people — voted for marriage equality. While it wasn't enough, let's not forget that just fifteen years ago, few Americans had even heard of the concept of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

We've come a long way fast. And, despite the heartbreaking setback of yesterday's vote, the momentum is still very much on our side.

I also find hope in the phenomenal campaign that the No On 1 team ran. They talked one on one with tens of thousands of voters. They put the faces and stories of same-sex couples and families at the forefront. They engaged leaders from local elected officials to the Governor in the fight for marriage equality.

We even had a number of Equality North Carolina supporters who went up to Maine to help out, and many more who made calls to Maine voters from their homes.

Of course, after some time to grieve, we should look at what worked well and what could be done better next time. But I suspect that in the final analysis we'll see that the work No On 1 did won over thousands and thousands of voters to our side.

The state just wasn't quite there yet. But it will be.

A little history: Maine voters went to the polls four times to vote on nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. The first three times they rejected it. But Equality Maine didn't give up, and the state legislators who believed in fairness didn't give up. Now it's the law of the land.

We've got to keep fighting in Maine and in every state.

Yesterday, voters in Washington state approved comprehensive domestic partnerships, and in Kalamazoo, Michigan, voters rejected vicious attacks on the transgender community to support the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.

New York and New Jersey have a real chance of passing marriage equality legislation this year. The Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect many workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, could become law in the next few months.

All of that's going to take a lot of hard work.

Rest assured, if we do that work, we'll win marriage back in Maine, California, and, eventually we'll win our full civil rights in states like North Carolina and the whole nation. We know how to do it.

I'm in it to win it. Are you?And here is the rest of it.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Representative Baldwin on Hate Crimes Bill Signed Today

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (WI-02) lauds President Obama's signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law on October 28, 2009. read on

Joint Statement on Hate Crimes Act - History in the Making

It took much too long, more than a decade. And it came at too great a price: the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. are just two among the thousands of crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.

But this week, the president put pen to paper and fulfilled a campaign promise, the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, extending the federal hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation and gender identity along with race, religion, gender, national origin and disability. Our deepest hope and strong belief is that this new law will save lives. Now, lawmakers and the president have made an imperative statement to the country and the world: Our nation will no longer tolerate hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

We have worked long and hard for this and its passage is historic. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there are nearly 8,000 hate crime-related incidents annually, and more than 1,200 of those incidents involve violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And even more alarming, while the overall occurrence of hate crimes is declining nationally, hate crimes against LGBT people have been increasing. This year alone, we saw hate crimes trials in the brutal killings of two transgender women, Angie Zapata and Lateisha Green.

As a result of this legislation, if local jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Justice Department can now step in. And that’s why the LGBT community never stopped working for this historic day.

This legislation not only has practical value, but is a symbol of our progress. It is the first time in the nation’s history that Congress has passed explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We could not have reached this moment without the powerful support of our allies who stood with us every step of the way. We are deeply grateful to civil rights, civic, faith and disability rights groups, as well as law enforcement and district attorney organizations that worked side by side with the LGBT advocates. We are equally thankful to Congress, President Obama and members of his administration for passing and signing this bill into law.

While today we celebrate this marker of progress, we must recognize it as only one of the building blocks to full equality and demand that it be just a first step toward equal treatment under federal law in all areas of our lives. And we must focus on the next step.

The passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act provides us with an opportunity. We must use this moment to educate and keep the momentum going so that we can continue to make progress on the local, state and federal levels. Yes, legislation takes a long time — often years of work. Yet, our community is on the cusp of passing much-needed protections.

This week, we call upon lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, families and allies to take this opportunity of increased media and public attention on hate crimes to educate co-workers, classmates, neighbors, family members and friends about our lives, and about why we need not only their friendship and love, but their vocal support for a more just and equal America for LGBT people. If your members of Congress voted in support of hate crimes legislation, call them and thank them. Then ask them to be there for us again when the vote turns to workplace nondiscrimination, military service and partnership rights.

With your help and our collective pressure, equality is within reach.

When talking about the need for hate crimes legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “The time for debate is over.”

She was right.

Just as the time has finally come for stronger hate crime protections, it is also time to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and ensure that health care, economic policy and immigration reform incorporate the needs of LGBT people.

The time for debate is over.

Signed by:

Jo Kenny, AFL-CIO Pride at Work
Terry Stone, Centerlink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Gabe Javier, Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA
Toni Broaddus, Equality Federation
Jennifer Chrisler, Family Equality Council
Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry
Lee Swislow, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Rebecca Allison, M.D., Gay & Lesbian Medical Association
Chuck Wolfe, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund
Eliza Byard, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Marjorie Hill, Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign
Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality
Earl Fowlkes, International Federation of Black Prides
Kevin M. Cathcart, Lambda Legal
Leslie Calman, Mautner Project: The National Lesbian Health Organization
Sharon Lettman, National Black Justice Coalition
Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality
Justin Nelson, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Rea Carey, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Paul Kawata, National Minority AIDS Council
Kyle Bailey, National Stonewall Democrats
Greg Varnum, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Sharon Stapel, New York Anti-Violence Project
Jody Michael Huckaby, PFLAG National
Aubrey Sarvis, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
Michael Adams, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
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Historic Hate Crimes Bill Signed Today

President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It's taken a decade to get this law passed.Some wonder what difference it will make. NPR reported that one boon to local hate crime laws will be the availability of federal money for investigations. But the effect on states and municipalities without local hate crime laws isn't clear.

Equality Texas has an eloquent blog post up on this law that has been such a long time coming.
read on

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Midweek State Blog Round Up

Empire State Pride Agenda launches its click to call campaign for marriage equality.

Equality Florida raises an eyebrow at anti gay OK Rep. Tom Coburn's opinion piece in The Advocate and makes an important endorsement.

The Tennessee Equality Project reports on an important Federal bill that could remove hurdles to LGBT adoption.

GLSEN's new report on the experience of trans youth in schools reviewed by Equality North Carolina.

Fair Wisconsin travels to celebrate domestic partnership protections.

TransOhio cheers the NY State appellate judges who struck down "doctor's note" requirement for transgender name changes.
read on

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LA Times Editorial Trivializes Harvey Milk Day Victory

reprinted with permission from the California Ripple Effect (EQCA's blog)

In the past our community has counted on the Los Angeles Times editorial board to have our back. Last year they calmly and rationally made the case against Prop 8 to their readers, but this morning we awoke to a shocking and inexcusable editorial criticizing Gov. Schwarzenegger’s historic signature making Harvey Milk Day a reality in California:

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger's lame-duck status may have given him the courage to sign some controversial bills that we wish he hadn't...

…By taking a grown-up political fight to schoolchildren, Leno's bill will only add to the hysteria surrounding gay rights, proving to conservatives that proponents really are eager to teach homosexuality in the schools. Schools have an obligation to teach history, but they shouldn't be used as a platform for a political agenda. Although Milk deserves recognition as a gay-rights pioneer, there are more appropriate ways to honor him. At times like this, we miss the days when Schwarzenegger lacked a backbone.

Not only does this editorial miss the point of Harvey Milk Day, it’s insulting.

The only ones using schools as a platform for a political agenda are anti-LGBT extremists who try to make easy targets of our community’s most vulnerable, in this case LGBT students. These people have actually fought against anti-bullying and nondiscrimination protections for students, have tried to systematically erase the contributions of LGBT people from history books, have tried to clamp down on students’ free speech and association rights and have exploited student-led Day of Silence demonstrations to promote grown-up led, vicious hate rallies at public schools targeting LGBT students and allies.

Furthermore, Harvey Milk Day does not mandate any changes to the curriculum at all. It simply encourages schools to offer appropriate commemorative exercises. Let’s remember that California has some of the most generous parental opt-out laws in the country. Parents can take their children out of just about any lesson whatsoever they find objectionable. Let’s also remember that the campaign that passed Prop 8 routinely lied about this fact to scare parents into supporting a vile amendment that had absolutely nothing to do with our schools.

During that time period, the GSA Network documented a marked increase in anti-LGBT bullying. LGBT schoolchildren are already at much higher risk of bullying and suicide because anti-LGBT grown-ups have already taken this political fight to them.

With all due respect, members of the editorial board, we are not the ones trying to politicize classrooms. We are not the ones waging our battles on the backs of vulnerable youth. Harvey Milk Day, as well as a number of nondiscrimination and safe schools bills that EQCA has helped to pass, make sure that LGBT students are safe to learn, grow and be themselves and that other students learn the value of diversity and the cost of violence.

At a time when the same people who took away marriage in California are again using schoolchildren as pawns to further their anti-LGBT agenda in Maine, lying about anti-bullying curriculums in California and about the so-called “consequences” of the freedom to marry, we really should be able to count on one of the country’s most esteemed newspapers to cut through the spin and look at the facts.

You can share your opinion, too and send a letter to the editor.
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Basic Rights Oregon's New Campaign: Increasing Health Care for Transgender Oregonians

After months of careful research and analysis from our Trans Policy Working Group, and after hearing from transgender and allied Oregonians from across the state, the team of volunteers leading this effort has selected a campaign for transgender justice: increasing access to health care for transgender Oregonians.

Why health care? Because transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming Oregonians face serious barriers to accessing appropriate, affordable care:

* It’s common practice in Oregon to deny health care to transgender Oregonians just because of their identity. In fact, the vast majority of health care plans specifically exclude transition-related health care—so transgender Oregonians can’t access hormones, surgery, counseling and other critical care.
* Many health care providers have little or no experience treating transgender patients, making it extraordinarily difficult for many transpeople to find appropriate care—and leaving many doctors and nurses unsure of how best to treat their patients.

These factors leave many transgender Oregonians with insufficient health care, and with tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills to pay out of pocket—simply because of their gender identity. It’s tough enough for anyone to get health care. No one should be denied care just because of their identity.

That’s why Basic Rights Oregon will work to increase access to trans-inclusive health care plans, and work with health care providers to increase their knowledge and comfort in treating transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming patients.

For more about barriers to health care for transgender Oregonians, read Issues in Trans Justice: Health Care on the Basic Rights Oregon blog. And stay tuned to our blog & enews for updates and opportunities to get involved!
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday State Blog Round Up

The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation is rolling out several new initiatives.

Tampa Bay celebrates Coming Out Day and Equality Florida's own Tobias Packer inspires the crowd at the National Equality March.

Former Federation intern, Stephen Wiseman, blogs about ENDA for Equality North Carolina.

At Basic Rights Oregon, a benefit for Polk County Democrats, a rally for Immigration Reform, and BRO's new campaign for transgender justice.

And Geoff Kors, Equality California, calls this A Time for Action, read on

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday State Blog Round Up

Basic Rights Oregon and other state groups are presenting The Laramie Project. BRO is also offering a Safe Schools Training and (psst) they're hiring.

Empire State Pride Agenda's Pride in My Workplace Coordinator reports on their recent Business Leaders for LGBT Equality Series

Equality California reminds us that October 15 is Latino AIDS Awareness day

Equality Florida invites you to meet their outspoken Congressman Grayson at their upcoming gala.

An ex-Equality Maryland intern talks about field work for No On 1.

Equality North Carolina does its own roundup of local and not-so-local news.

Equality South Dakota notes study showing gay parents are good parents (no surprise) and reports on organized labor's support for full inclusion (maybe a little surprise).

And the Tennessee Equality Project channels Morrissey as they think about approaching equality.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is there a Single, One-Stop, Equality for All, Federal Solution?

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about this idea that we should demand a single federal solution for equality. I’ve heard it from donors, I’ve heard it from Equality March organizers, and I’ve heard it from angry lgbt Americans.

Much as that sounds like a great idea, equality is not going to happen that way.

A single federal solution is simply not possible. Here’s why.

  1. The separation of powers between the federal and state governments means that states reserve all the powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution. This means that states hold the power to regulate marriage and family matters, a power upon which the federal government has been loathe to intrude. When the federal government does act, it must rely upon constitutional protections (like equal protection or the right to due process) as grounds for regulating state rules or behaviors. And while the federal government also may use the power of the purse (tying highway funds to higher age limits for buying alcohol, for example), it is unlikely to impose new rules that don’t already have support or precedent in the states.

  2. No historical precedent exists. Now, this does not mean that we couldn’t or shouldn’t try to create a new precedent. But it would be an uphill struggle. We could not do it in the courts (where cases are based on actual circumstances of individuals and must generally be limited to the most narrow, specific ruling available to resolve the litigated issues). We would have to do it legislatively. But see #4. Achieving equality for women or black Americans – the movements we most often look to for inspiration – did not happen with the passage of a single law covering voting rights, equal pay, status as property of whites/men, employment discrimination, housing rights, health disparities, and so on. Inequality breeds a whole range of harms, and to try to address all of them in one bill would fail to adequately address each of them. See #3. You think the health care legislation is complex?

  3. Politics requires compromise. We may not like it, we may believe that equality should brook no compromise, but the fact remains that political maneuvering for power is how our democracy is implemented every single day. We can rail against it, or we can educate ourselves about how to navigate through the egos and fear tactics and cynicism and favor trading and all the rest so that we can actually achieve the change we seek. We must understand that politicians do not lead, they follow. Demonstrations and marches are important because they increase our visibility and force politicians to think about our issues. But we still have to get votes for our legislation. Unfortunately, the courageous politician is an exceedingly rare creature. Add to that the politics in our own movement. Plenty of folks love or hate particular leaders in the movement (especially those who lead movement organizations), but guess what? Those leaders are simply a microcosm of the larger community and we, too, have intense disagreements about which strategies are best or where we should prioritize the allocation of resources. So compromise is required in our own community in order to move forward.

  4. We can’t amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a proposal I’ve heard many times, and on the face of it I think it’s a great idea. Why wouldn’t we add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to a bill that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin? It’s a brilliant and simple strategy! Unfortunately, it’s really not. The fact is, civil rights laws passed after this great Act have been subject to attempts (many successful) to water down the kinds of protections they provide. So, for example, we have a pretty big religious exemption in ENDA that many of us don’t like but that we know we have to include if we are going to move this bill forward at all. And if we tried to amend the Civil Rights Act, we would certainly see amendments and exemptions to our simple, brilliant proposal that would actually weaken the law. Because of this, some of our strongest allies in the civil rights community could not and would not support us in trying to amend this law. And if leaders in the civil rights community actively opposed us in this approach, we would simply be unable to get the votes we needed to pass our proposal. So – we could try doing this, but it is not really a promising use of our resources or political capital.

  5. Existing proposed legislation has momentum now and multiple bills are already lined up for passage. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is currently moving through Congress and, if we all do our part, it should pass this year. Hate crimes legislation has had a hard road but it will also pass soon. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is inching forward and I expect to see it happen next year, hopefully in the spring. We are actively building support right now for immigration law reforms to end discrimination against lgbt families, as well as laws to extend domestic partner benefits to federal employees and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Even if you think I’m wrong about everything else I’ve said here, this is not the time to abandon legislation that our community has been working on for years.

  6. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we actually could pass an all-purpose federal equality law, we will still need state laws to truly achieve equality. ENDA will be a great step forward for our community, and it will protect millions of American currently protected under no other laws. But it won’t actually cover everyone. Small businesses, for example, will mostly be exempt from ENDA based on the size of their staff. In most states with employment protections, more businesses are required to comply so millions of workers not covered by federal law are actually covered by state law. And even if we repeal DOMA, we still have to get marriage in as many states as we can if we are to have any hope of winning a court challenge to the constitutionality of state DOMA’s. In the American version of government, state and federal legislation may pass independently, but its impact is most often felt in the application of an interconnected web of laws.

In this country, democracy works in something of a circular pattern. Big social issues aren’t tackled first in our nation’s capital. Instead, they bubble up from our local communities, where the harms are closer to home and citizens can work to get their local governments to address those harms. State government action often follows, learning and improving upon strategies already implemented locally, and expanding protections across the entire state. When enough states have addressed a particular issue, the national understanding of that issue will begin to shift, so a critical mass of policy changes or a social tipping point is reached. Then we see the federal government begin to take action. Finally, the action at the federal level will reach back down to the state and local level in places where we have been unable to make local and state policy changes.

Or, a law is passed and the courts must rule it constitutional or not. The legislature may have to take action again. Or litigation is filed, and the outcome of that case may spur action by the voters. That’s the beautiful thing about democracy – there are many approaches we can take to changing public policy. Of course, that means we may also be attacked on any level (witness Kalamazoo, Maine, Washington state, and Congress generally).

My point is simply this. We will not achieve equality by abandoning our work at any level of the political process. We must continue to increase the pressure to achieve the promise of equality under the law at all levels and in all branches of government. There is no magic bullet. Our strategy must be focused while also casting a very large net. And that’s how we will finally achieve equal protection under the law.
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Friday, September 18, 2009

State Blog Round Up

At Michigan Equality, an intern reflects on her summer.

From Basic Rights Oregon there's a post on their great fundraiser with Kate Kendell of NCLR.

Equality Arizona highlights Colorado's Sent(a)Mental Project.

On Equality California's blog a guest editorial makes a strong case for 2012.

Equality Florida notes who has (and hasn't) cancelled homophobic Buju Banton's performances in Florida.

The Tennessee Equality Project supports the upcoming National Equality March on Washington

The arguments for and against marriage equality are covered at Equality North Carolina.

And Fair Wisconsin does some traveling. read on

Friday, August 14, 2009

Introducing The Equality Agenda

By Toni Broaddus, Equality Federation Executive Director

In its September cover story on President Obama’s progress on gay rights issues, the Advocate notes that

“Groups like the Equality Federation…have organized grassroots work that’s delivered unprecedented progress with staggering speed toward the goal of marriage equality…”

We are pleased to be noticed. But even when we don’t get in the big stories, you can bet we are working to knit together the strongest and most strategic network of professional organizers that the lgbt equal rights movement has ever seen.

We are not leaving our equality up to chance. State leaders have an agenda – we call it The Equality Agenda. It’s a state by state plan for how we can achieve the most victories and create the strongest possible momentum for achieving equal rights.

Stay tuned over the next year and we’ll share that Agenda with you. We’ll alert you to opportunities to make a real difference in the communities and on the issues you care about.

So, let’s get this Agenda started with some key state strategies and campaigns.

In Maine, volunteers are hard at work to prove that this movement can and will successfully defend marriage equality. A victory in Maine is critical not only to protect the rights of that state’s families, but also to provide the momentum for success in New Jersey and New York in the next year. We have not yet won marriage at the ballot box, and this is our chance to do it.

To win, we need your help. Donate whatever you can to the campaign now. Today. Whether you can give $10 or $10,000 dollars, do it here now. Early money wins campaigns. Your money will help win this campaign.

Maybe you were thinking about going to DC to meet up with other activists on the Mall. My advice? If you want a life-changing experience, go immerse yourself in a campaign for a week. Make phone calls, knock on doors, help with community meetings, stand on corners with campaign signs. You can do this in October in Maine. It’s called Volunteer Vacation and it’s one of the best things you’ll ever be glad you did. Plus you get fall in New England… what could be better? Sign up!

In California, winning back the right to marry is going to take longer – there are a lot more voters that we have to persuade and we have to do it through one-on-one conversations. Equality California spent the past several months talking to lgbt community members and groups, POC community members and groups, pollsters, seasoned campaign consultants, and donors. What they heard convinced EQCA to recommend that our community wait until 2012 to go back to the people for a vote on marriage equality.

Read the EQCA Report. This is one of the most thoughtful strategic documents that I have seen in this movement. It is certainly unprecedented in that it is a strategy openly shared with the community for discussion and debate. The evidence is in the report, check it out.

But as we always say at the Federation, marriage is not our only priority. We need to defend a Kalamazoo ordinance that bans discrimination against gay and transgender people. We need to put an end to this attempt by the intolerance wing of the Republican party that seeks to derail equality by sensationalizing the lives of the transgender members of our community. We have to draw a line in Kalamazoo.

So many ways to get involved! Isn’t it exciting?

But wait, there’s more. The Equality Agenda is a road map to what we can do over the next three years: twenty states will be working to pass nondiscrimination laws, including several states that will finally include gender identity in existing laws; twenty-one states will be working on legislation that protects LGBT youth and educates the public about the very real harms of bullying and harassment in our public schools; seventeen states are working to pass relationship recognition laws that protect our families and fourteen will be defending their state’s citizens from attacks on our families.

We have work to do at the federal level, too. Have you talked to your own representatives in Congress about the hate crimes bill, ENDA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, DOMA or the Uniting All Families Act? All of these bills are part of The Equality Agenda. Sign up for Equality Federation Action Alerts and we’ll let you know when an email to your federal representatives will make a difference and help move us one step closer to equality.

Don’t forget – August is the time of year when our Senators and Representatives come home to our communities and meet with the people they work for. You are a constituent – call up your representative’s office and schedule an appointment. Take your friends and neighbors – let your electeds know what you expect of them. Tell them your story.

Aren’t sure who represents you? Click here to find out. Don’t be shy – speak your mind to someone who has the power to vote for your equality.

And while you are breathlessly waiting for the next installment of The Equality Agenda, find out what’s going on in your own state. I’ll bet there are opportunities to volunteer, to give, to speak out, to participate. Your state equality group needs you – the Federation can help you get connected. read on

Friday, May 29, 2009

"No Excuses. No Delays." Do we really mean it?

by Nadine Smith - Equality Florida

At a recent speaking engagement, I asked a group of people what the world would be like if from the day they were born prejudice had never touched their lives.

No homophobic bullying in school. Supportive families at homes No trans-bashing humor on TV.

No workplace discrimination. Equal treatment of all families regardless or orientation or gender identity.

No closet, ever, because you had never, ever needed one.

Most of the people responded by talking about new laws that would be in effect but they struggled to name the deeper, more personal impact on the texture of their daily lives.

A few talked about what they would no longer fear but struggled to articulate what affirmative would replace those fears.

And one man wept and said it broke his heart that he could not imagine, even for a moment, what his life would have been without the constant presence of bigotry and hatred he'd endured for more than 60 years.

I encourage everyone to try this exercise because it is surprisingly difficult, and because I believe it is the pathway to our most potent tools in response to government-imposed second class citizenship:

A Sense of Urgency and the Willingness to Sacrifice to harness the transformational power of living "as if." "As if" the laws had already changed. "As if" society were just.

Sitting at a lunch counter that bans your presence is living "as if". Keeping your seat when ordered to relinquish it to someone the law has designated your superior is living "as if."

As a child I was told that Rosa Parks was tired and fed up one fateful day and decided right then and there that she would not give up her seat. I was impressed by her courage.

Later, when I learned that her protest had been contemplated at length with the consequences fully measured, I was inspired even more deeply by her willingness to intentionally sacrifice her freedom and safety to make the country confront the ugliness of Jim Crow.

So where are the places where we contemplate the consequences of living "as if" equality had already arrived. Housing discrimination, workplace discrimination, adoption/ custody issues and hate violence are constant threats in LGBT lives, but not in inevitable or predictable ways. Where are the "sit -in" opportunities for the LGBT movement that can expose the contradiction between what our fellow Americans believe they stand for and what they allow to be done in their name?

Certainly discrimination in marriage laws and the military provide the most direct opportunities. These are the places the law defines us specifically as unequal, where we can make a reliable appointment with discrimination and be certain it will show up right on time.

Servicemembers who come out while on active duty and fight for the right to continue to do their jobs are a model for this kind of personal commitment and sacrifice. They decide not to participate in their own discrimination. They and the organizations fighting for them are shifting public opinion in dramatic ways.

What is the civilian equivalent? What can we do that demonstrates not only the rhetoric of equality but the personal sacrifice that will awaken the conscience of a nation?

What if those of us who are married lived as if our marriages are universally legally recognized? What if we literally refused to deny our spouse on any form, under any circumstances- ever?

When the government asks legally married couples in Massachusetts to file as 'married' in their state and then mark 'single' on the Federal Tax form, they are asking that couple to participate in their own discrimination so that the government doesn't have to dirty it's hands.
They are literally demanding that we lie, to tell an untruth about our marital status, so they can avoid confronting the difference between the hate-based discrimination they impose on us and the reality of our loving families.

Imagine the ripple effect of government issued letters to married gay couples ordering them to deny their spouse on federal forms.
We have to compel these moments by deciding that our lives will be about honesty and self-respect. Even if it comes at a price.

Rosa Parks showed us that even a one family refusing to participate in their own discrimination will have an impact.

But thousands of us, all of us, can decide to leave the discrimination up to the other side. We can refuse to collaborate in our own discrimination.

If we refuse to deny our spouses even when the law tries to force us to lie.

If we insist on paying our taxes as married couples, even though the Federal government assessed our taxes as though we were single

If we risked being detained at the border by customs agents who insist we mark single on Declaration forms despite the marriage certificate we hold.

With growing frequency I hear from people who are weighing the consequences of refusing to deny their spouse ever again. I find myself asking the same questions as well.

Even with expert legal guidance detailing the risks, a good dose of uncertainty would be inevitable for anyone taking such a stand into uncharted territory.

Am I willing to take that risk? Are you? Are we all?

We march, we lobby, we educate, we protest and we should and we must. But it seems increasingly clear to me that we must now do what civil rights movements have always done: with forethought and solemnity place ourselves visibly at odds with an unjust law to provoke the consequences that can prick the conscience of our country.

Are we willing to pay the price that civil rights movements require at this critical moment when a reinvigorated national dialogue is raging about our place under the law?
Are we willing to compel the government be as ugly as it will have to be to enforce its determination that we are not married?

Are we willing to say we are married, regardless of the costs?

'No excuses, no delays' is a fine rallying cry, but it's one that has to cut both ways.

When we call our on our government to take action we must also call upon ourselves to do more.

In focus groups we hosted several years ago, a panel of straight people who knew gay people said they did not believe discrimination was real or nearly bad as we described it because their gay friends or family would have told them these things. Then, in the all-gay focus groups, participants were asked: Do you share your fears and experiences of discrimination with your straight friends and family? They said "NO, if they cared they would ask." They don't ask, we don't tell and rarely are they required to see with their own eyes the deep harm and real pain inflicted by laws that tell us we are less than our neighbors.

Every civil rights struggle in this country has required people to sacrifice and make institutionalized discrimination so visible no one could avert their eyes.

People stepped forward knowing they could lose their homes, lose their jobs, their safety, They walked willingly toward hateful mobs and police with snarling dogs.

They turned a proposed one day bus boycott into 381 days of solidarity. They sacrificed and the country watched and changed.

Every civil rights struggle in this country has required people to sacrifice.

The country is watching. Are we ready to do the same?

Nadine Smith

-- Posted By Nadine to Equality Florida Blog at
5/29/2009 08:55:00 AM

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