May 26, 2015

Earlier this month, I flew to Albuquerque for a remarkable convening of activists from movements for reproductive rights, reproductive justice, and LGBT issues in the Southwest.

Organized by ConwayStrategic (with funding from the Ford Foundation) the gathering included advocates from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, including Equality Federation members Equality New Mexico and Equality Arizona, along with some national organizations. Between the weather and the equally bad storm that is their legislature, Equality Texas joined us by phone.

The focus of the meeting was how we can all work together most effectively to defeat religious exemption efforts. But we were also able to have important conversations about how to work together on other goals where we share common ground. My biggest takeaway was the incredible potential of partnering with reproductive justice organizations, especially for our members who are working on access to healthcare for LGBT people. Understanding how members of our communities suffer because of poverty, illness, and racism, and the ways that multiple types of oppression add up to create huge barriers to lived equality is key to these partnerships. 

I was inspired by Amber Royster from Equality New Mexico, who described the impressive coalition that they have built with their partners, including Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, Young Women United, Strong Families New Mexico, and a broad array of other groups. The EQNM board has made a commitment to reproductive justice principles and it is paying off in a deepening of relationships and strengthening political power.

If New Mexico leads the way in coalition work, Texas has been a model for engaging faith communities in fighting religious exemptions, and Arizona has shown the way that, in a very conservative state, mobilizing business leaders to speak out against religious exemptions can be critical to success. In all three states, partnerships between statewide and national organizations, regardless of issue, can be challenging to manage but potentially very rewarding.

We had a lively discussion of the ways that we need to work together to make sure that in building support for one piece of legislation, we’re not inadvertently harming others.  For instance, as we ask legislators to support nondiscrimination laws, we have to be wary of requests to trade for legislation opposing paid sick time, chipping away at organized labor, and hurting the environment through fracking. Activists and state-based leaders need to be very wary and understand the impact that their advocacy may have on broader coalition efforts.

Gatherings like this are so important for our movement, as we learn from and work with groups across issue areas to achieve common goals.

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