This is a critical moment for our movement. While a positive marriage ruling from the Supreme Court is hopefully only weeks away, states across the country are facing a deluge of anti-LGBT bills, and over 200 million Americans currently live in states that only have a patchwork of nondiscrimination protections. Advocates in the South are at the front lines fighting for fairness and equality.
Last weekend, Equality Federation staff and our Southern member organizations gathered together in Atlanta for the Federation's Southern Leadership Summit, to share strategies, network, and plan for collaboration to stave off attacks and fight for protections for LGBT individuals.
With the help of member organization Georgia Equality, the Federation brought together more than 30 state leaders from all over the region and national partners for two days of peer learning and leadership development training.
We started the gathering off on Thursday night with a joint reception hosted by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, which gave our state leaders a chance to connect with one another and funders focusing on providing the South with much needed resources.
On Friday, the learning began. While part of the Summit focused on offering trainings in the latest messaging research, the most inspiring part for me was hearing our state leaders tell stories of the work they are doing on the ground right now in their communities. A few highlights included:
- From the Fairness Campaign, Chris Hartman shared lessons learned from their work to defeat a nasty, anti-trans bathroom access bill.
- Matt Hirschy from Equality NC shared their exciting partnership with South Carolina Equality and Equality Virginia to recognize and mobilize supportive small businesses.
- Stratton Pollitzer from Equality Florida taught us about their remarkably effective gala model of fundraising.
- In Georgia, Wes Sanders at Georgia Equality shared their remarkable success in increasing voter turnout among LGBT and allied voters.
- Chuck Smith from Equality Texas shared how they build a complex campaign structure with state and national partners to advance equality.
- Troy Stevenson from Freedom Oklahoma gave a rundown of how they killed the “slate of hate”—18 anti-LGBT bills.
The chance to share and hear from leaders in other states is a valuable aspect of the conference for everyone, and provides important learning moments as we plan for the year ahead.
For me, working with leaders in the South is not only inspiring, but personal. Living in North Carolina makes me deeply connected to this work and to partnering with state leaders to win protections for LGBT people in the South. Just this week, a broad religious exemption bill was filed in North Carolina that would sanction and promote discrimination against LGBT people in the state. The bill comes on the heels of a Senate Bill 2, which passed the NC Senate earlier this year that would allow magistrates and other state officials to deny marriage licenses to couples whose unions violate those officials' religious beliefs. The anti-LGBT sentiment in the legislature is real, and frightening.
Bills like this one filed in North Carolina and many other states in the South and across the country are clear evidence that our work is far from over. But with influential and talented leaders like those I had the pleasure of learning from this past weekend, I feel confident we are committed to winning equality in every community.
At the Federation, we’ve learned a lot over the years from our Southern state leaders. As more resources and energy flow to the South, I know we’ll continue to be inspired and excited by what is accomplished. We are proud to support the work for LGBT equality in the South, and to bring leaders together, And I know we’ll continue our commitment to working in the region — to developing the leaders of today and tomorrow, to strengthening our state-based organizations, and to advancing the policies that matter most to those who call the South home.
Learn more about what our attendees are doing in the communities they call home on our Facebook page via our #equalityathome photos.
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