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Volume 34
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Equal Rights Washington ready for battle over Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill; marriage equality
Equal Rights Washington ready for battle over Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill; marriage equality
"It's going to be an important year this year. It's important for everyone to be able to look back and say that they were a part of it," said ERW's Executive Director Fran Dunaway.

by Lauren Waddell - SGN Contributing Writer

Equal Rights Washington (ERW), a statewide Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender political advocacy organization, has a lot to celebrate in the New Year - bright, welcoming new offices, two new passionate and dedicated staff members, and some exciting plans for the year ahead.

"We want to be the political powerhouse that works with the legislators in Olympia on LGBT issues, ensuring equality for all," ERW's Executive Director Fran Dunaway told the Seattle Gay News. "This year, we hope to pass an antidiscrimination bill. Cal Anderson introduced the first antidiscrimination bill 30 years ago, so it's the big 3-0. We hope to have a big celebration after getting it passed. We feel confident that we're going to get the vote."

Representative Ed Murray will reintroduce the bill when the session starts next week and Dunaway says she's excited about working to get it passed. The group has received a lot of support from allies like the Religious Coalition for Equality, who will be partnering with them to put on Equality Day, which will feature advocacy workshops, a rally, and meetings with legislators on January 23rd in Olympia.

ERW hopes to demonstrate to legislators and the public alike that there are substantial numbers of people from across the state who support the passage of the bill. The organization will even be providing transportation to the rally from Seattle and outlying areas, so that everyone has a chance to show their support for the legislation.

Although passage of the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill tops the organizations agenda, ERW also hopes to secure marriage equality for all - and keep it, should the state's highest court extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. "Of course, we're waiting for a historic decision from the Supreme Court about marriage equality," said Dunaway. "We're really looking forward to educating the public about issues related to marriage equality so that they can understand that it's about protecting families; it's about ensuring equality and fairness in marriage.

"No matter which way the Supreme Court rules, we feel certain that we'll be facing a Constitutional amendment in this state, and we feel that the environment and the values of Washingtonians are such that we can educate people on the fairness of this and be a second Massachusetts and, actually, have legal marriage for same-sex couples."

ERW started as a volunteer board-led organization in March of 2004. George Cheung acted as interim executive director until a exstensive nationwide search for an executive director could be completed. Last August, Dunaway took the reins. She is a former member of the Human Rights Campaign's Board of Governors and was been an active part of the Seattle HRC Steering Committee.

In addition to Dunaway, Associate Director Lee Frankl and Office Manager Mathew Lee have joined the organization in recent months. The three staff work out of ERW's new office at 209 Harvard Avenue East on Seattle's Capitol Hill.

Frankl was named as the full time associate director of ERW on November 22, 2005. He has a background in management and business development. A native of New England, he worked extensively on several political campaigns in the Boston area. He relocated to the Northwest after living in Florida for two years.

Frankl says he is proud to be a part of ERW and recognizes the need for its important work. "There is a high sense of urgency at ERW in all areas," he said. "We are looking at an historic year for the LGBT community in our state: an opportunity to pass antidiscrimination legislation after years of hard work and a pending decision on marriage equality from the Washington Supreme Court. Fundraising for ERW is a huge responsibility& the right-wing is highly motivated and well-funded and our community needs a strong voice in state politics - now more than ever."

Lee, ERW's new office manager, has spent several years working to ensure equality in contracting, having worked with the Northwest Minority Business Council and the Contractor's Resource Center. He has volunteered at Lifelong AIDS Alliance, helping with its Chicken Soup Brigade Program and annual AIDS Walk.

Under Dunaway's leadership, ERW's membership has doubled in the past 4 months alone. However, she says the organization still has a long way to go. "Participation in Equal Rights Washington is critical to the success of the organization," she said. "If every person becomes a member, we can go to the legislators and say 'This is how many strong we are.' The other thing is to make a commitment, like a monthly recurring commitment, or a membership - that will make people feel that they're a part of this.

"This community needs to get some organization that's really out there and changing things. That's a great way for people to get involved. Their voices can be heard, and together, united, we can win on all of our issues. That would be the critical thing - you've got to join, you've got to be involved and support Equal Rights Washington."

If people can't make it to Equality Day or donate, Dunaway had plenty of other suggestions for ways people can show their support. Volunteers are needed to assist in running and managing events like Equality Day. Volunteers with graphic design abilities, writing skills, public speaking expertise, data-entry skills, and phone skills are especially useful, she said.

"It's going to be an important year this year. It's important for everyone to be able to look back and say that they were a part of it," said Dunaway. "ERW has volunteer drop-in nights on Wednesdays, where people can help out by stuffing envelopes, sending out mailers, or in any number of other ways."

To learn more about Equal Rights Washington, call 206-324-2570 or visit, www.equalrightswashington.org.

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