Equality Begins at Home Begins!
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
In Hartford, Connecticut the rainbow flag flew over the state capitol on Monday, raised as a powerful symbol of equality for the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community. Voices calling for GLBT equality were raised throughout the country this weekend to mark the start of Equality Begins at Home (EBAH), one of the largest grassroots mobilizations in the history of the GLBT rights movement.
Equality Begins at Home is the first-ever campaign of actions in all 50 states to focus attention on the battle in state legislatures over GLBT rights. More than 350 events addressing issues of anti-gay discrimination, violence, and prejudice are taking place March 21-27. Major events were held throughout the country this weekend, including Texas, California, Washington, DC, Alabama, and Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, as tens of thousands of people rally throughout the country this week for equality, a number of major pro-GLBT rights bills could see action. In Alabama, a bill to add sexual orientation to the state's hate crimes law will be presented to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. In Maryland, a civil rights bill will likely be voted on by the full House on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Governor Parris Glendenning has been lobbying hard for the bill, and Maryland activists are hopeful about its passage.
In New Hampshire, the bill to repeal the state's anti-gay adoption and foster care ban may see more movement. The House last week passed the measure, and the Senate is likely to vote on it soon. Prospects for passage are good, and Governor Jeanne Shaheen has already announced she will sign the measure into law. Brendan Denehy of Out and Equal in New Hampshire reports that the House vote to pass the repeal of the ban was a highly emotional and moving event. Activists who tried 12 years ago to stop the ban from being enacted had tears streaming down their faces as it became clear the repeal would pass. In the words of one of those witnesses, "The hate has finally left the State House." Denehy added, "They said that pigs would fly before this bill passed the House. Well, there's pork in the treetops in New Hampshire today!"
Proclamations in honor of GLBT equality were read at many of the actions this past weekend. In New Jersey, Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman's proclamation recognized and commended Equality Begins at Home, stating, "we must remain vigilant against the bigotry that continues to denounce gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, and encourages violence against members of this community." The Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council adopted a proclamation in honor of Equality Begins at Home, and activists in Lander, Wyoming have asked their city council to adopt a similar resolution. The proposed resolution would state that the city "would foster a community that respects and celebrates the diversity of human expression and identity." The Lander City Council has not yet taken action. For the District of Columbia, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton entered into the Congressional Record an official statement on Equality Begins at Home and the right to D.C. self-determination. Holmes Norton also introduced federal legislation to end the congressional review of the DC budget and laws. Congress has repeatedly used this review in an attempt to curtail GLBT rights.
In Chicago on Friday, a letter in honor of Equality Begins at Home from Mayor Richard Daley was read at a very emotional and upbeat pre-EBAH rally that drew more than 400 people. Even more people are expected at a rally and lobby day in Springfield later in the week. A civil rights bill is before the Illinois House, and for the first time all executive officers of the state, including the governor and lieutenant governor, have signed on in support of the measure.
Last week in South Carolina, the State Senate voted in favor of a hate crimes bill. The measure now goes to the Senate. In a bold assertion of their right to equality, a contingent of 25 GLBT people, including NGLTF's Urvashi Vaid, marched in the South Carolina St. Patrick's parade on Saturday. A right-wing religious fundamentalist marched alongside the contingent passing out literature and screaming, "Homosexuality is a sin, it's an abomination." According to Vaid, while the abuse was hard to take, everyone in the contingent kept their cool, smiled and waved and chanted, "Happy St. Patrick's Day, Equality Some Day."
In Washington, D.C., approximately 200 people braved a steady pouring rain to tell Congress, "Hands off DC." The D.C. city council has been largely supportive of GLBT equality, only to have Congress block these laws. Congress has repeatedly tried to prohibit adoption by unmarried couples and blocked implementation of the city's domestic partnership policy, city spending for needle exchange programs, and a vote tabulation of a ballot measure last November on medical marijuana. Speakers at the rally included openly gay City Councilman Jim Graham and National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland.
In Alabama, people gathered on the steps of the capitol building to take a stand against hate crimes. Joining them were State Representative Alvin Holmes, the sponsor of a bill to add sexual orientation to the state's hate crimes bill. In Texas, hundreds of young people rallied against discrimination in education and on Sunday, more than 8,000 marched and rallied in support of GLBT families. In Nashville, Tennessee hundreds rallied at the first- ever statewide rally for GLBT rights in Tennessee. Attendees hailed from all over the state and participation by GLBT youth was especially high.
In Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday, Barney Frank got a hero's welcome from hundreds of people at a rally at the state capitol. In Oregon 200 young people convened for the state's very first by-youth for-youth conference on GLBT issues. Hundreds more attended a rally at the capitol. In Nevada, former State Senator Lori Lipman Brown, author of the bill that repealed the state's sodomy law in 1993, joined Assemblyman David Parks, who introduced an employment non-discrimination bill earlier this year, at a rally for the non-discrimination measure. In Jefferson City, Missouri a crowd of hundreds gathered on the South Lawn of the state capitol in what is said to have been the first rally there GLBT rights. In Columbus, Ohio people braved the wind and cold to hear, among others, Leslie Sadasivan, the mother of a gay teen who killed himself, read from a poem that her son Robbie wrote about isolation. Ralliers also heard from out GLBT elected officials and cheered the "Radical Cheerleaders" - students from Oberlin College — who in between performances and before speakers from the stage entertained the crowd with catchy political cheers and purposefully dismal choreography!
In Sacramento, California, on Sunday, EBAH marked the premier of the new statewide group, the California Alliance for Pride and Equality. The day began with an interfaith service attended by 200 people. A wreath laying by GLB veterans followed. Events culminated in a rally at the capitol with a crowd representing every corner of the state. Tom Amiano of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was the emcee of the rally.
In Trenton, New Jersey, approximately 300 people rallied in support of GLBT health, safety, youth and families. Speakers included David Nixon, an African-American gay man and self-described transvestite who was the first in New Jersey to bring attention to same-sex teen dating when he took his boyfriend to the senior prom in 1980.
Equality Begins at Home went full tilt in New England. Connecticut's House Majority Leader David Pudlin and his family attended the state capitol flag raising ceremony and benefit brunch, and more than 800 people attended a Connecticut GLBT families conference during the weekend. In Massachusetts, a spirited rally was held at the historic Arlington Street Church in Boston, where the Boston Gay Men's Chorus performed and the names of GLBT elected officials in Massachusetts — more than 20 — were called. After speeches by a number of local luminaries, the Freedom Trail Band played as everyone spilled out into the street to the capitol where candles were lit in honor of GLBT people murdered in anti-gay hate crimes. In Vermont, people gathered to listen to the Samadhi Singers sing freedom songs, to get an update on legislation concerning the GLBT community, and to hear two of the plaintiffs in the marriage lawsuit speak about their decision to challenge the state for the right to marry.
In Norfolk, Virginia, EBAH kicked off with a service at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Afterward, about 200 people held hands in the rain and surrounded the church. On the closing day of Equality Begins at Home, people will gather in Richmond for a prayer breakfast and will join hands and encircle the capitol in support of equality. Elsewhere, GLBT people of faith affirmed their belief in equality through Family Spirituality Day across Nebraska, while rainbow flags flew at supporting congregations in Michigan and GLBT-supportive worship services were held in Iowa.
Equality Begins at Home is coordinated by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and organized by the Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Statewide Political Organizations.
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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