The Equality Pledge Network – a new campaign for full LGBT equality backed by over 245 organizations – will officially launch with an LGBT Civil Rights Vigil at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C. beginning at 8:30 p.m., Monday, June 30th. The event theme is “Add 4 Words” reflecting a call for four words to be added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act: “sexual orientation-gender identity” (SO-GI). The event also celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Act, on July 2nd, marking 50 years and counting until the day LGBT Americans are equally protected from the scourge of discrimination.
A new organization, LGBTequalityNOW.org, has been created to facilitate the Network, led by a wealth of veteran experience and diversity, including Erica Keppler, Chair of the Arizona Stonewall Democrats; Cathy Marino-Thomas, former chair of Marriage Equality USA; Veronica Eady, a straight-ally and African-American civil rights attorney currently at the Conservation Law Foundation; Josef Pons de Jesus previously with ACT-UP NY, Human Rights Campaign, and the National Latino Lesbian & Gay Organization; Pablo Colon, former community outreach and advocacy director at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis NY; Attorney Yetta Kurland, former candidate for City Council in NY and a human rights advocate; Michael Miller, formerly with the AIDS Action Committee of Boston and Harvard AIDS Institute; and Executive Director and Board Chairperson, J. Todd Fernandez, Esquire, former Ombudsman to the Governor and General Council and Legislative Director for Economic Affairs of Massachusetts.
Building a powerful team, the new network is uniting the grassroots and state groups like never before, breaking the corporate insider mold with direct empowerment of local experts. Over 40 activists in 22 states are serving as volunteer state leads, including Attorney Peter Sergienko working with his gay son Eugene in Oregon; Richard Noble, from the Walk Across America; Attorney Stephen Zollman of the National Equality March; Jeff White-Perkins from Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center; straight-ally Jean Kryean of Pennsylvania, and Mika Covington and Ken Ritter, who have joined forces in Iowa and Nebraska (quotes below).
The unifying statement of principle for the over 245 groups in 44 states is The Pledge for Full LGBT Equality, which calls on the LGBT Caucus to file a one-bill strategy to add SO-GI to all the civil rights laws at once. The breadth of this community mandate spans sixteen statewide equality organizations from Equality Hawaii to Equality Illinois to Equality South Carolina; transgender groups such as Gender Rights Maryland and theTennessee Trans Political Alliance; POC groups including LGBT Caribbean and theNYC Black Justice Alliance; PFLAG chapters from Pasadena to Ann Arbor; theACLU of Mississippi, The Unitarian Universalists Association; Metropolitan Community Churches; The United Church of Christ; LGBT Democrats of Virginia, Palm Springs and Florida, 23 LGBT Community Centers from New York to San Francisco; LGBT Pride groups from New Orleans to LosAngeles to the Outer Banks; and InterPride, and over 11 City Council Proclamations from West Hollywood to New Orleans and Tallahassee.
The new strategy is in sharp contrast to the Human Rights Campaign’s push for the Employment Nondiscrimination Law, now embroiled in community dissent because of the religious-exemptions that would leave our most vulnerable children behind. Groups including the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Equality California, Queer Nation NY, Equality Illinois, and others, strongly oppose the Senate version of ENDA, which would ensconce in federal law anti-LGBT discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs, as a concession for Republican votes, that entirely misses the point of organizing for social change.
“Seeking full equality is not just a legislative agenda, but is the antidote to the vast harm LGBT Americans endure under discrimination, which causes children to commit suicide, and keeps 53% of LGBT workers in the closet, living in daily fear,” said Todd Fernandez, campaign manager for The Equality Pledge Network. “The ENDA compromises are a sign of our movement’s strategic weaknesses, and they should not be accepted until we have first united in full force nationwide. We won this debate in Arizona with Republican Senators’ support, and it’s the debate we need to have as a nation to heal homophobia and transphobia in our culture.”
The Network’s information-filled website advances two main arguments: 1. That international law requires Congress to outlaw SO-GI discrimination, and 2. That the vast harm caused by discrimination, known as “minority stress,” makes this a public health emergency. As support, the site includes the United Nation’s Free & Equal campaign, the historic speech by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaiming “gay rights are human rights,” and congressional expert testimony of Dr. Illan Meyers of the Williams Institute, backed by official reports of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the American Psychological Association, and others.
The 2014 Campaign goals include 1. Increasing Pledge support from 245 to 500 organizations, 2. Establishing state leads in all 50 states, 3. Conducting a 2014 Equality Poll to map support in Congress, and 4. Mounting a PSA campaign about the “minority stress” impact including suicide and mental health disparities, such as depression, anxiety, and hypervigiliance. LGBT Americans are suffering from these, unaware that societal discrimination is the cause, and this simple awareness could save lives and prevent suffering, while changing hearts and minds.
The vigil will feature pictures of LGBT Americans lost to suicide and murder, also honored on the website, to prevail upon the greater conscious of our nation to outlaw this societal abuse. Activists and religious leaders will carry rainbow flags and herald the contributions of LGBT civil rights heroes Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the way on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Bayard Rustin, the gay human rights leader who was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work leading to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which his community yearns to join.
The Equality Pledge Network
STATEMENTS of NETWORK STATE LEADS & BOARD MEMBERS
Veronica Eady, Board Member, LGBTequalityNOW.org, Civil Rights Attorney: “As an African American woman, I understand why only fully inclusive nondiscrimination laws meet the standard for basic human dignity in our nation. The inclusion of LGBT American in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is right and necessary.”
Jeff White-Perkins, President Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center:
“We in Mississippi support this pledge because throughout the history of our state, we have learned the lesson of how inequality can cause the destruction of the human spirit and how that can last for hundreds of years within the hearts and minds of our citizens. We hope to end that here and now.”
Cathy Marino-Thomas, Board, LGBTequalityNOW.org, former Board Chair, Marriage Equality USA: “Marriage equality, although important for our families, is not full federal equality. The time to be fully equal is now!”
Ken Ritter, Nebraskans for Equality: “Nebraskans for Equality is proud and excited to be part of a new dialogue for LGBT equality. It is time LGBT people learn about other areas of their rights as Americans that deserve full equal attention under the law.”
Marcinho Savant, Entertainment Chair, Equality Pledge Network: “The Pledge is a no-brainer. There is no gray area, in equality. Either we are EQUAL, or we’re not. The constitution has already answered in the letter and the spirit of the document. I choose equality. Equality now.”
Attorney Stephen Zollman, formerly of the National Equality March. “As Northern California’s State Lead for the Equality Pledge Network, and Founder of Guerneville’s Next Steps Towards Full Legal Equality, I would like to say that every one needs to do this for your youth! None of our youth should ever feel lesser than. Full Federal Equality Now!!”
Erica Keppler, Chair, Arizona Stonewall Democrats, Board Member, LGBTequalityNOW.org: “For too long we have settled for pursuing piecemeal solutions to systemic cultural bigotry. It is time to deal with the entire problem head on. It is time for full federal equality.”
Joyce Arnold: “With the state of inequality the reality for millions of us, residing in every state (including here in Texas), full equality at the federal level is crucial to advocacy efforts.”
Keri Kidder, Florida State Pledge Lead: “Jacksonville, Florida is still behind in Equality and we will continue to fight until everyone is equal.”
Mika Covington, Iowa State Pledge Lead: “”As an new Iowan, I have come to experience equal rights here in Iowa. They are awesome. However, they are constantly under attack and we have to constantly fight to keep them. This is why it is more important than ever to get full federal human rights for everyone no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. The fight forward is not over until all humans have full and equal human right.”
Pablo Colon, LGBT Activist, Board Member, LGBTequalityNOW.org: “We LGBT people, your sons, daughters, brothers and sisters demand to be equal under the law as we are under God! Join the Equality Pledge Network and be on the right side of history.”
Jean Kryven, Pennsylvania State Lead: “Friends and family suffering discrimination and violence inspired me to volunteer with Equality Pledge Network. As a middle-aged straight ally, I was alive when Americans were killed while working for Civil Rights. From child labor laws at the turn of the century to the Equal Pay Act, mobilization and legislation are what expand good health, joy, and prosperity for all Americans.”