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Equality Day 2009: Thursday, March 12
Equality Day 2009: Thursday, March 12
by Mike Andrew- SGN Staff Writer

"This is an opportunity to put a human face on LGBT issues," says Equal Rights Washington's Advocacy Director Josh Friedes, talking about ERW's upcoming Equality Day 2009. The event is scheduled for Thursday, March 12, at the State Capitol in Olympia.

Friedes talked to SGN by phone from Hawaii, where he is "on loan" working on that state's civil unions bill. "Especially now, with the economic downturn," he said, "we want to show how inequalities adversely affect the community."

ERW's Equality Day is intended to give LGBT constituents and their allies an opportunity to meet with and lobby their representatives. Friedes listed a number of issues of interest to the LGBT community. "HIV/AIDS service and prevention; expansion of domestic partnership legislation; adding gender equality and expression to state hate crimes laws; strengthening the anti-bullying bill&."

For Friedes, however, marriage equality is the ultimate political goal. "It's always important to talk about marriage," he says. "We've always been very clear and transparent - we're after marriage equality. The bottom line is that domestic partnership does not meet the needs of the community."

Rep. Jim Moeller (D-49) has introduced a marriage equality bill, but legislators do not expect it to pass this year. "We're working to build a marriage equality majority," Friedes says. "There are 42 sponsors on the marriage bill. I give credit to Jim Moeller for talking to his colleagues and getting so many on board."

"It's the same thing in the electorate as in the legislature," Friedes continues. "We never intended to move marriage this year. We know there will be a referendum [if a marriage equality bill passes] and we have to win a majority. People also need to lobby their co-workers, their families, their neighbors."

While marriage equality clearly will not pass this year, expansion of domestic partnership laws - referred to by some observers as "everything but marriage" - is considered very likely. Already 57 House members have signed on as sponsors, a majority of the 98 State House members. Twenty Senators have also signed on as sponsors, out of a total of 49 Senators.

Friedes believes that lobbying on this issue is still necessary, however. "I'm extremely optimistic about domestic partnerships, but you should never be complaisant," he says.

"We also want to show the breadth of support," Friedes says. "The Religious Coalition for Equality, is now a program of ERW, and they are co-sponsoring Lobby day."

Responding to reports that Roman Catholic Archbishop Brunett of Seattle has personally lobbied against expansion of domestic partnership benefits, Friedes says "We're seeing the same cast of opponents we always come up against. The Catholic hierarchy is problematic, but the Catholic laity are staunch supporters of equality. They have a tradition of commitment to social justice."

"I think the election of Barack Obama frightened social conservatives," Friedes says. "They're becoming more active in some ways. We really can't take anything for granted."

Asked about the concern often voiced by Senator Ed Murray (D-43), that many legislators, especially those from Eastern Washington, are never lobbied about LGBT issues, Friedes replied, "There are probably two or three districts where we don't have constituents coming. Even if we know that legislators disagree, we recognize it's important to have the conversation."

"Now, there are some legislators don't want to have the conversation," he cautioned. "If the legislator's door is closed it's very, very difficult."

"We've had several very, very successful lobby days," Friedes says. "The next step is to develop deep relationships with legislators. For constituents to invite them to their homes for coffee, for example."

Friedes says ERW is also planning to alternate constituent lobby days with events led by the religious community. "Odd-numbered years would be Equality Days with constituent lobbying," he told SGN. "Even-numbered years would have a clergy luncheon with the legislators. 2010 would be the first one."

"I think there's a problem within the LGBT community," Friedes says, "that people have had negative experiences with religion and therefore project a view that religion is the enemy. We want the legislature to see and experience religious diversity."

"Separation of church and state is a red herring," Friedes believes. "Respecting religious diversity is the real issue. Different religious traditions have different positions on marriage. The state has no interest in favoring one tradition over another."

Schedule of Events:

9-9:45 a.m. - Registration: tents on the lawn in front of Capital Stairs

10-11:15 a.m. - Advocacy Workshops: location will be assigned by district at registration.

11:15 a.m.-noon - Lunch Break: lunch will NOT be provided, we suggest you pack a lunch or visit food locations on or near campus.

Noon-12:45 p.m. - Rally: Capital Stairs

1-3:30 p.m. - Legislator Meetings: times and locations will be assigned at registration.

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