John M. Becker

Equality Battle Shifts to the South

Filed By John M. Becker | April 28, 2014 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Colorado, gay marriage, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, Tim Gill

As support for LGBT equality has moved into the mainstream and protections like marriage and employment equality have gained a foothold in key parts of the country, LGBT rights groups are turning with a renewed focus to the area where LGBT people are the most vulnerable: the Deep South and the Mountain West.

On Saturday, the Human Rights Campaign announced Project One America, an $8.5 million commitment to advancing equality in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. The campaign has a three-year budget and a "dedicated staff of 20," the group reports.

From HRC's press release:

"Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas--one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship. Project One America is an unparalleled effort to close that gap, and it opens up a bold, new chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement of this generation. In this grand struggle for equality, we can't write off anyone, anywhere," said HRC President and Arkansas native Chad Griffin.

Project One America is the very first campaign of its kind to work exclusively on LGBT equality in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas--where there are no non-discrimination protections for LGBT people at the state or local level in employment, housing or public accommodations, and where each state's constitution expressly prohibits marriage equality.

The Associated Press reports that the campaign is "based on using chats and front-porch visits between relatives and friends to foster an environment more welcoming toward people of all sexual orientations" -- because people are far more likely to support LGBT equality once they realize they know and love LGBT people.

More, after the jump.

Equality advocate and noted gay philanthropist Tim Gill, who has to date invested over $300 million of his personal fortune advancing equality across America, echoed the "two Americas" theme in an front-page story published today in the New York Times.

"We can't allow two distinct gay Americas to exist," Gill said. "Everybody should have the same rights and protections regardless of where they were born and where they live."

According to the NYT, the Gill Foundation and Gill Action Fund plan to invest approximately $25 million "into a handful of mostly conservative-leaning states over the next five years." It's a strategy invented and field-tested in Mr. Gill's home state of Colorado, which 20 years go was a Republican stronghold dominated by anti-LGBT evangelical groups like Focus on the Family but now -- thanks largely to Gill's efforts -- has a Democratic governor and a Democratically-controlled state legislature. And victories for LGBT rights have followed: sexual orientation-based discrimination was outlawed in 2008, Colorado passed civil unions last year, and a push for full marriage equality is on the horizon.

The Times calls this shift in focus from the coasts to the interior "the biggest realignment of gay rights activism in a decade." It makes sense not only because these are the areas of the country where LGBT people have the fewest legal protections, but because surveys show that southern and prairie/Rocky Mountain states are the ones with the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children.

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