Equality Begins at Home – A Capitol Campaign
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
Equality Begins at Home closed this weekend with dozens of actions across the country. What was originally intended to be coordinated political actions in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, became one of the largest grassroots mobilizations in the history of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) movement. From the airwaves to the freeways the charge for equality was seen and heard. More than 350 events involving tens of thousands of people took place in just over one week's time. Equality Begins at Home was coordinated by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and organized by the Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Statewide Political Organizations.
"Last week, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people across America took a giant and irrevocable step toward equality. Because of Equality Begins at Home and the work of the Federation, statewide organizing is at one of its most vigorous and vibrant points ever," said NGLTF executive director Kerry Lobel. Lobel and other NGLTF staff traversed the nation during Equality Begins at Home week, attending events in 41 states.
"State legislators were put on notice last week, that there is an active and organized GLBT constituency who will demand nothing less than full equality," said Gina Reiss, co-chair of the Federation and executive director of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition.
In Helena, Montana the Capitol Rotunda was filled with a spirited crowd of more than 150 people. The Montana Women's Chorus got things started. Then, several of the legislators who introduced this year's hate crimes bill, nondiscrimination bill, and sodomy repeal bill spoke. Christine Kaufmann of the Montana Human Rights Network talked about their postcard campaign to persuade legislators to add sexual orientation to the hate crimes bill. Nearly 1,800 postcards hit legislators' mailboxes as a result of the campaign. As Kaufmann spoke it was raining postcards in the rotunda, as volunteers standing in the balcony tossed the postcards onto the crowd. People then picked up the postcards and began reading the names of those who signed the postcards in outrage over the actions of the Montana state legislature.
Georgia capped off its event-filled Equality Begins at Home week with a Unity Above Hate march and rally sponsored, planned, and presented by the young people from Youth Pride. On Saturday, 300 people gathered at Georgia State Capitol to call for an end to anti-gay violence, passage of the Georgia Domestic Terrorism Act, and full enforcement of school anti-harassment policies. In addition to Saturday's finale, 175 people attended a sculpture show in memory of Matthew Shepard by 19-year-old artist Noah Saunders. Saunders is the survivor of ongoing harassment during his high school years. His show was about confronting the pain of oppression and turning it into something useful and even beautiful. In addition to the sculpture show, a reading of the powerful poetry of Pat Parker — called Movement in Black — was presented. More than 100 people came to hear the work of this African-American lesbian feminist poet who died from breast cancer in 1989.
A beautiful rally in Albuquerque on New Mexico drew nearly 700 people. Many folks arrived at the rally in style, via a "Homos on the Highway" caravan from Santa Fe, which included a police escort for part of the way, a Tinky Winky auto and others with rainbows streaming from hood to tail. At the rally, people heard from, among others, Congressman Tom Udall, and former lesbian state Senator, Liz Stefanics, who, vowing to return to the State Senate, announced her next candidacy for the 2000 election. The spiritual leaders who gathered on stage ranged from Navajo to a Catholic Bishop!
In Arkansas nearly 200 people from throughout the state attended an energetic and passionate gathering at the capitol. NGLTF's executive director Kerry Lobel made a return to her previous home of ten years to joined them. The formation of the Arkansas Equality Network was announced at the rally.
In Utah an energized crowd of almost 300 people turned out in the light snow and cold temperatures. Speakers included 3 out of 4 of Salt Lake's mayoral candidates; Wendy Weaver, a teacher who won a discrimination lawsuit against school officials; Jackie Biskupski the first out lesbian candidate elected to the Utah House, among others.
Oklahoma's Equality Begins at Home event brought together about 350 people at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City to call for passage of a hate crimes bill that includes sexual orientation. Event organizers flew the rainbow flag over the state capitol with the other seven flags present. State Senator Bernest Cain and Roosevelt Milton, President of the OklahomaCity NAACP, addressed the crowd.
In Maryland, on the heels of the passage in the House of a civil rights bill, the Maryland Free State Justice Campaign held a reception with Governor Parris Glendening. More than 200 people thanked Governor Glendening for his strong advocacy for the bill, and discussed strategies for its passage in the Senate.
More than 150 activists in Minnesota attended OutFront 5, the fifth annual GLBT organizing conference. Held in Willmar, the conference featured workshops on workplace, campus organizing, anti-violence, people of faith, and transgender issues. Keynote speaker Elias Farajaje Jones spoke of the linkages between issues and the importance of the GLBT community standing up against all forms of oppression.
In Birmingham, Alabama, approximately 100 GLBT people gathered for a five hour long community meeting to discuss strategies for equality. Topics included anti-gay violence and the murder of Billy Jack Gaither in nearby Sylacauga. Participants decided to form a coalition of local GLBT organizations to work on the passage of a hate crimes bill and the establishment of a state human rights commission. According to Bob Burns, one of the event's organizers, "I have plenty of people who come to me and say, 'I want to do something. What can I do?' And I don't have an answer for them," Burns said. "Today, I do."
It was a windy day on the plains on Friday as nearly 300 people rallied on the steps of the State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska. Along with the rally, the exhibit Love Makes a Family was displayed in the Capitol Rotunda, and nearly 600 people participated in at least one of the many Equality Begins at Home events throughout the week, including a presentation by noted lesbian author and activist Suzanne Pharr on the connections between racism and homophobia.
At a rally in Richmond, Jay Fisette, VirginiaÕs first openly gay elected official, roused the crowd, as did a number of other speakers. Following the rally, participants gathered at the Capitol and encircled it hand-in-hand.
In Champaign, Illinois, as part of the dozens of EBAH events throughout the state, business cards with the full color EBAH logo and the words "this is presented to you by a supporter of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality" were distributed all over the city. Thousands were given out as folks handed them to merchants when making a purchase. In addition, businesses put out posters saying they were an Equality Begins at Home welcoming business so people would shop there with their cards.
At a rally in Augusta, Maine, the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance premiered its first-ever public service announcement for TV. It features a revolving group of about 24 Mainers, each differently identified from all others. One after the other, the Mainers say, "I'm an African-American...or gay or lesbian or Franco-American or American Jew " etc. Then at the end there is a simple statement, "Maine is a state for everyone." Followed by the EBAH logo. After the PSA played (to wild applause), from the heavens of the stage descended the MLGPA banner, a rainbow flag, and the EBAH banner. The rally was followed by a meeting of the Maine Equal Rights Coalition, a newly formed statewide group to get an early grip on the anticipated statewide ballot measure that will inevitably follow passage of an anti-discrimination law this year.
The first-ever caucus of GLBT legislators announced itself in New Hampshire. At a rally in Concord, State Representative Jim Splaine unveiled the Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Straight Legislators. The rally also addressed the effort to repeal the state's adoption ban. The repeal measure passed the House and is expected to pass the Senate.
On the steps of the Capitol in Idaho more than 100 people braved the cold and wind to gear up for passage next year of a hate crimes bill, which was killed this year. Idaho's statewide GLBT group Your Family, Friends & Neighbors released a legislative scorecard detailed with comments from this year's State Legislature's House Affairs Committee hearing on the bill. At the rally, organizers read a statement from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center supporting EBAH (below).
"Equality Begins at Home was an incredible and exciting success," beamed Paula Ettelbrick, EBAH National Coordinator. "It truly accomplished, our one primary goal of strengthening the national GLBT community's political and organizing focus where it matters most — in our home states."
STATEMENT BY THE KING CENTER
ON THE 'EQUALITY BEGINS AT HOME' CAMPAIGN
MARCH 26, 1999
The King Center believes that prejudice and discrimination against people because of their race, religion, gender, age, physical or mental disability, ethnicity, language or sexual orientation is morally wrong and unacceptable in a democratic society.
Like racism, anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry, homophobia denies people their dignity and personhood, lowers human rights standards for everybody and must be opposed by freedom-loving people everywhere. As Dr. King said "I have fought too long and too hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concerns. Justice is indivisible."
Dr. King called us to always meet the forces of hate with the power of love, and for people of good will to work together to create a society that honors the human rights of all citizens. The King Center commends the "Equality Begins at Home" campaign for addressing this challenge, and we wish you the greatest success in your efforts to build the Beloved Community.
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movementís premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.
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