In the United States, an employer can't decide that they will not hire you because you're a member of a racial, ethnic, or religious minority group. But if you tell them you're gay and they don't like that, they have every right to turn you down.
That's one of the things the Stonewall Democrats hope to get changed over the next year. The national organization is a leading advocate for the rights of LGBT citizens, but until recently, they didn't have a formal presence in South Carolina.
A year into its existence, the South Carolina Stonewall Democrats boast 135 registered members; many more receive the organization's newsletter and e-mail alerts.
The Stonewall Democrats meet regularly around the state, and caucus groups are currently in formation in Greenville and Columbia, with interest growing in Rock Hill, Aiken, and Spartanburg. Two members served as delegates at the Democratic convention in Denver last month, and S.C. Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler often praises their efforts; the group even received recognition from the podium at last year's presidential debate at the Citadel.
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With Linda Ketner, an openly gay businesswoman, running against Rep. Henry Brown, the group is in action mode. The Stonewall Democrats have organized voter registration drives and are actively campaigning for candidates they support. Last week, LGBT organization brought the national group's executive director, Jon Hoadley, to Charleston to celebrate their first anniversary.
"I think S.C. is the model of what a new chapter of the Stonewall Democrats can accomplish, from their active participation in the primary process to their registration efforts and direct work with campaigns," Hoadley says. "I think it's a great example of what pro-equality Democrats can do when they decide they want to get some work done."
According to chapter Director Keith Riddle, the group's goals and purpose have become much more intentional than when they formed a year ago. Instead of just having meetings and hoping people show up, the Stonewall Democrats are out getting folks involved.
"I think a tremendous part of it has to do with the excitement of this election cycle, but what we're trying to do is to make ourselves just as relevant after Nov. 5," says Riddle. "I want to have more candidates be open about being GLBT, and also encourage more Democratic candidates to be spokesmen for the community and be open to listening to us. I want us to lift up those candidates who may not be GLBT, but who appreciate where we're coming from and the challenges we have in recognition issues, and will be champions for us."
In local elections, he mentions Anne Peterson Hutto, who's running for a seat in the state House of Representatives, and Charleston County Council member Colleen Condon among those the group supports.
Susie Prueter, second vice president of the Charleston County Democratic Party and Stonewall member, emphasizes the importance the presidential election will have on gay rights.
"Senators Obama and Biden will put us, for the first time in a long time, in a proactive position to move GLBT equality forward," she says. "I'm afraid if Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are elected, we'll be again in a reactive position and looking at defending ourselves against discriminatory legislation."
Riddle also stresses the importance of keeping the "feet to the fire" of elected officials they support. He adds that while the group's main purpose is to support LGBT rights, the Stonewall Democrats are free weigh in on other important issues.
"It's important for people to understand that the Stonewall Democrats are not just for GLBT people," says Riddle. "It's for those who understand the issues we face and are receptive to them. The candidates we work for are those who are willing to lend us an ear when we need it."
And as their influence and clout continues to grow, those ears may become more and more plentiful.