Special Issues » The Gay Issue 2007

Back Off the Ropes

LGBT advocacy groups head back into the ring after gay marriage fight

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In the days and weeks leading up to last year's vote on the marriage amendment, it was hard for anyone to avoid Charleston's Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA). Gay rights advocates distributed personal letters, mass mailings, newspaper inserts, TV ads, radio spots, billboards. The South Carolina Equality Coalition (SCEC), a statewide advocacy group, held forums and passed out buttons, bumper stickers, and yard signs. While the amendment passed, gay activists aren't going back to their corner — they're staying in the fight and ready to keep attention on gay issues.

"Many people assumed we'd just fade away," says Warren Redman-Gress, executive director for AFFA. "We're going to try to stretch people's minds, so they realize that we have not gone away."

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The group's annual billboard campaign began on Monday, featuring the tagline, "Acceptance Without Exception."

Meanwhile, the group still holds educational events, with presentations before the College of Charleston's psychology department, Wofford College's diversity forum, and USC's School of Social Work taking place last month. The group also conducts training for religious leaders, state agencies, and law enforcement in Richland and Sumter Counties.

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"We take as many opportunities as we can to talk to people about our lives," Redman-Gress says. "While we need political change, we need a cultural shift as well."

While the majority of their work involves educating others, AFFA seeks to improve communication between local LGBT groups. The organization also offers support groups for gay and lesbian parents and brings national speakers into town to help inspire the community.

"It's good for our kids to see other families that look like theirs," he says.

The SCEC, which hit its stride in the months running up to last November's vote, is continuing to coordinate gays statewide. The group has hosted a lobbying training seminar for grassroots supporters and has hired a lobbyist to help keep an eye on the Statehouse. They've also sought out media outlets and have received grant funding for a multimedia project.

Even as the Employment and Non-Discrimination Act, which will protect gays and lesbians in the workplace, inches closer toward Congressional approval, local LGBT groups support adding transsexuals to the list of protected minorities. However, opponents of the addition say the votes simply aren't there.

"It's not equal rights for us. It's equal rights for all," says Melissa Moore, statewide coordinator for SCEC. The national debate is also helping state supporters plot their game plan when the state legislature returns in January.

Advocacy efforts for inclusive hate crimes legislation has centered largely in Greenville, where Sean Kennedy died in May in what's believed to be a hate crime.

Hate crime legislation will be vetted through committee early next year, Moore says. "We're taking advantage of this break in the session to educate," she says.

Getting hospital visitation rights, a frequent concern for gay and lesbian partners, will be another fight that will bring gays and lesbians from both political parties together, says Truman Smith, chair of the state's Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group.

"There are a lot of issues where we can work together," he says.

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Meanwhile, gay politicos are also gearing up for next year's election. The recently formed South Carolina Stonewall Democrats, bolstered by strong support from the leadership of the state Democratic Party, is aggressively pursuing seats at the state's nominating convention. The groups want the LGBT community to have a visible presence at the convention, which will be attended by 54 delegates. Earlier this year, the state Democratic party made it a goal to send three gay or lesbian delegates to the South Carolina convention.

"But remember, this is a goal, not a quota," says Tom Chorlton, a College of Charleston instructor and an early organizer of gay Democrats back in the '80s.

The Log Cabin Republicans aren't endorsing any candidate, but the national group made it known last month who they're not supporting: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The group bought an advertisement to run in early primary states highlighting Romney's shifting positions on gun control, abortion, and Ronald Reagan.

"Of all the candidates, Mitt Romney most misrepresents himself," Smith says. "As a party, do we want someone who's going to be called a flip-flopper?"

While Smith, Chorlton, and others encourage gays and lesbians to get involved in political campaigns, they also want folks to be open and proud in everyday life.

"As always, invisibility is our No. 1 enemy," Chorlton says. "We only make a positive impact when people know we're there." — Greg Hambrick

For More Information

Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA): Meetings the second Tuesday of every other month. Next meeting is Nov. 18. Pre-meeting social begins at 5:45 at the Renaissance Hotel on Wentworth Street. For more information, visit www.affa-sc.org.

S.C. Equality Coalition: Focused on sexual orientation issues and grassroots lobbying for inclusive legislation. More information at www.scequality.org.

Stonewall Democrats: Group is still forming and looking for new members. The next meeting is Dec. 12 at 6 p.m., with the location to be determined. For more information, visit www.scstonewall.org.

Log Cabin Republicans: Holding a reception Nov. 8. For more information, visit sclogcabin.org or contact Truman Smith at chairman@logcabin.org.

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