Saturday, March 15, 2014

Taking the Local Road to Equality


As the transgender rights bill (Fairness for All Marylanders Act) continues to work its way through the General Assembly with hopefully positive results, the last big piece of legislation for LGBT Marylanders will be joining marriage equality in the rear-view mirror.  This is not to say the work is done, however. 
Carrie Evans, the executive director of Equality Maryland, indicated that there are future legislative initiatives concerning equality and justice that intersect with being LGBT.  “We are more than our sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.  “We are black, immigrant, parents, rural dwelling, disabled, young, and senior citizens, and Equality Maryland will work on advocating for the whole of an LGBT person’s identity and issues.” 

While Equality Maryland re-tools its mission to take on matters that concern these groups, there are those who strongly believe that the most effective way to deal with anti-gay brushfires around the state is to go local.  The recent physical attack of a gay couple in New York’s West Village should underscore the fact that there are too many haters out there, which cannot be masked by recent victories in marriage and transgender equality.
Having local affiliates throughout the state, similar to what the NAACP does, makes patently good sense.  Volunteers consisting of LGBT folks and allies in each county (or region) should form groups that could be called, for example, “Equality Allegany” or “Equality Eastern Shore” or “Equality Prince George’s” depending on the jurisdiction.

With an LGBT presence at the local level, there could be more efficient ways to interact with the police on crimes or hate bias incidents directed towards LGBT folks.  Local affiliates could meet with police representatives to discuss such matters and hold conversations to educate the police on LGBT concerns that cannot be accomplished at the state level.
Local equality affiliates could also interact with their elected officials whether they are county executives, councilpersons, state representatives or other elected officials.  Maryland is a diverse state with each jurisdiction having unique problems.  Residents of these localities are familiar with these issues; perhaps they know the officials well enough to have a cup of coffee and initiate meaningful dialogue.

The same could be said for the local school boards.  Numerous LGBT families have children attending schools, and there are, of course, LGBT kids all over.  While the state has anti-bullying measures in place, individual incidents need to be addressed at the local school board level.  Who is better equipped to discuss anti-bullying policies than those people living in the same county and who may be members of the PTA or personally know members of the board?
Getting the local business community behind its LGBT neighbors cannot be overemphasized.  As the fracas in Arizona proved, business people saw discrimination as counter-productive and applied strong pressure on Governor Brewer to veto the preposterous discriminatory bill.  The local affiliate representatives should meet with business owners—large and small—to determine how supporting LGBT rights would be mutually beneficial.

I would also encourage each local group to form a speakers’ bureau consisting of at least one LGBT person, a parent of an LGBT child and another ally to foster trust and understanding.  The speakers would explain that as more and more people come out as LGBT, they are your family members, friends, classmates, neighbors and co-workers.  The presentations and discussions concerning LGBT issues should be directed at businesses, government entities and even religious organizations.  They should push to get invited; such talks would resonate given that the presenters are neighbors and customers.
Efforts at the local level have already paid dividends over the years, and there are already such “equality organizations” in place.  I’ve seen firsthand the myriad accomplishments of PFLAG-Howard County, which is a model for advocacy in the state.  The chapter has been successful at the county and state levels as well as in the private sector to eliminate the last vestiges of discrimination.

The progress being made by both The LGBT Center and the PFLAG chapter in Frederick has been notable.  They are working with the police and businesses to create a comfortable environment for a growing LGBT population in what was once a very conservative area.
There are other PFLAG chapters around the state that could serve as the root organization for the equality affiliate.  Chapters exist in Baltimore, Carroll, Kent and Montgomery counties, so they would be off to a fast start.  There has also been some movement in organizing LGBT events in Anne Arundel.

The GLCCB perhaps could serve as the principal organization in Baltimore City.  They have already taken big strides through their partnering with city government on a number of issues and have maintained a good relationship with the police—key successes in an urban environment.
Other affiliates, of course, would have to be established in rural counties.  The tasks are more daunting in those areas given the socially conservative mindset, but that is where the work is most needed.  Again, one should stress that those folks are their neighbors, customers, teachers, physicians and friends.  It’s worked before; it should work again.

All this localization is not designed to reduce Equality Maryland’s role in the quest for LGBT rights.  On the contrary, that organization could be a significant factor in the success of this effort.  I believe it should serve as the umbrella organization for the local affiliates.  Since the local groups would consist of volunteers, it would not place a financial burden on Equality Maryland.  They can use their database to identify potential volunteers around the state.
The larger organization would provide guidance on policy matters and connect the locals to elected officials.  Equality Maryland could hold an annual conference/fundraiser to discuss best practices among other subjects.  To the extent Equality Maryland would have control over the local groups would be left to the affiliates to negotiate. 

This is a big undertaking that will take time to succeed.  But going local is the right direction to take on the winding road to equality.

2 comments:

Risa Hildeton said...

Excellent ideas.

Risa Hildeton said...

Thank you, Steve. Those are all excellent ideas. Will re-post.