Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We have big voices…let’s hear them

Elected officials and LGBT folks need to speak out for equality

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Now that our state legislators have started the 90-day annual ritual of writing laws (see front-page article), this is the time for the lgbt community to step forward and have our big voices heard and our views made known. To help accomplish this, Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization, is sponsoring Lobby Day in Annapolis on February 12.

Among the activities, a rally will be held in downtown Annapolis beginning at 5:00 p.m. (At press time, the speakers and the specific venue have not been announced.) However, in the past two years such notables as Maya Keyes, Judy Shepard and Kweise Mfume took the stage and denounced hate and bigotry and spoke eloquently on the need for equality for the lgbt community. They, as well as others, addressed several hundred cheering people from all over the state—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgenedered, parents and straight allies—under the curious eye of the media.

This is the time to raise our collective voices and demonstrate we’re not second-class citizens. We turn out for Pride celebrations in vast numbers. We should do the same at Lobby Day. If nothing else, it will help us to gain necessary protections and rights—the same that are afforded heterosexuals.

Besides the rally, there will be opportunities for you to meet with your district legislators to tell your own individual story. You will be able to impress them as to why a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is not only discriminatory, but also how such unequal treatment affects you and your family. And even if you don’t contemplate marriage you should still fight for the right so that you have that option at some point.

"Personal stories are the most effective means to persuade a legislator," said Delegate Anne Kaiser (District 14-Montgomery County), who is openly gay. She along with three other Howard County delegates recently addressed the Howard County chapter of PFLAG to offer lobbying advice and tips. The other three delegates concurred.

We are finding out more and more that when legislators who are relatively unfamiliar with lgbt individuals and can actually put a human face on the prevailing issues as a result of meetings, there is a shift by varying degrees to their openness on these issues. Hearing our stories and concerns helps removes some barriers.

A message on Equality Maryland’s website states: "As a ‘citizen lobbyist,’ you're not expected to know the ins and outs of a particular bill; you're just expected to speak from your heart."

But we need others to find their voices, too. With the major initiative being the prevention of a constitutional amendment, the posturing and positioning by some politicians is already underway. We hear plenty from homophobic Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr. (District 31-Anne Arundel) who not only was the primary sponsor of the gay marriage ban but also led the movement to impeach Judge M. Brooke Murdock when she ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit.

Anytime the "gay marriage" issue surfaces, you can always count on Del. Dwyer to stand before a camera and microphone denouncing marriage for same-sex couples and insisting that it should be put up for a popular vote.

But where are our leaders? Besides the aforementioned Anne Kaiser, there are three other openly gay state legislators. In the House of Delegates we also have Maggie McIntosh (District 43-Baltimore) and freshman Heather Mizeur (District 20-Montgomery County).

And now we have the highest ranking openly gay elected official in Maryland—newly elected Senator Rich Madaleno (District 18-Montgomery County). He enters his first term as Senator, but he has served previously in the House of Delegates.

Sen. Madaleno and other Democrats are taking a wait-and-see stance, preferring to allow the Court of Appeals to render a judgement. Most observers believe that the decision will be handed down following the General Assembly session, thus delaying serious debate until next year.

Nonetheless, I would like to see a more proactive stance by our supporters, particularly from the four gay and lesbian lawmakers. Sen. Madaleno, for example, is in a very safe district politically, and Montgomery County did not send one Republican to Annapolis in the last election. Although a freshman senator, he should speak out loud and clear. It’s frustrating to hear only Dwyer’s comments on the evening news or reading them in the paper without an effective and appropriate response from an elected official.

I realize this is a politically dicey issue, but it is an important one to thousands of Maryland’s citizens. The public must be educated on the merits of recognizing same-sex couples, and allowing it to hear only one side damages our cause, especially if the question ultimately finds its way on a ballot.

Not only does the public need to be educated, the same can be said for our legislators. This is where you come in. Come to the rally on Lobby Day and become a "citizen lobbyist." Join hundreds of other like-minded individuals. It’s easy and fun.

Check with Equality Maryland to find out all the information you need to attend and participate in Lobby Day and sign up.
Speak out. Tell your own story. Let’s use our big voices to push for equality.

1 comment:

Rich Madaleno said...

Thank you for your last two posts. I have enjoyed them and agree with you. You should know that I regularly ask reporters to contact me on these issues. I believe strongly that another legislator should always counter Dwyer's comments. Instead, they usually structure these articles as Del. Dwyer vs. Dan Furmansky, gay activist. You should know that I try to be accessible to reporters on all issues. I speak out for marriage equality whenever and wherever I can.