by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The Queer Ally Coalition (QAC), an LGBTQ and allies group dedicated to grassroots organizing against homophobia and other issues affecting the LGBTQ community, has made the approval of Referendum 71 their key mission between now and the November 3 General Election. The organization has one message for Washingtonians: Register to vote, and vote to approve R-71.
Mike Carlson, the QAC canvassing coordinator for the organizations R-71 campaign, told SGN, "I think that approving R-71 is a step in a broader struggle for Gay rights and Gay marriage in Washington State."
Carlson said he believes R-71 is a civilized issue and if it gets rejected by voters this November "there will be even more attacks on the Gay community." He said if voters approve the referendum, "we'll have an even better chance to push for marriage equality in Washington."
"Everyone should have equal rights, everyone should have the exact same rights under the law," he told SGN. "Any kind of discrimination in our society should not be tolerated."
QAC began to support the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign by putting the Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST) campaign placard on their website and attending the Bumbershoot music festival. According to QAC officials, the organization sent people to hand out informative R-71 flyers to concertgoers during all three days of the festival.
However, the group quickly identified a problem.
BY R-71 VOTE
"We encountered confusion," Carlson said. "Many people were confused about what side they were on. People didn't know they were supposed to vote 'approve' in order to keep the domestic partnership law," he said. "I personally had over 20 people I had to remind that we are now on the 'yes' side of the argument. People still have the 'decline to sign' message in their head."
He said the public's reaction to the QAC presence was overwhelmingly positive. People took flyers and placards from the group and thanked them for supporting the approval of R-71. Carlson said they only ran into a handful of people who represented the opposition.
The activist said the group is meeting Wednesdays and Sundays to distribute flyers and put up Approve Ref. 71 posters all over Capitol Hill, considered the epicenter of Gay life in the city.
"We want to cover the Hill - not just the main streets, but even the small streets," he said. "In a week, we are doorbelling. We are just going to go door to door to hand out flyers, yard signs, and register people to vote."
In addition, QAC officials say they are utilizing the members of their group who attend the University of Washington (UW) to do tabling and to make announcements about approving the referendum on the campus radio station.
"We are involved in the Seattle OUTProtest October 10-11 vigil and march," Carlson told SGN. "Our goal is to increase visibility about the R-71 campaign and Gay rights in general."
He said QAC is an organization that really wants to hear what people have to say and wants to involve the community in the movement, adding, "we want to involve the broader community in the struggle and get people's voices heard."
Put simply, he said, QAC and the Approve R-71 Campaign need people to vote. "We know there is support," Carlson said. "But this is a tipping point. We don't just need the support, we need the vote."
QAC member Lonnie Lopez taught a class about LGBT history at Gay City University last Saturday. He said the class was well-attended and, overall, it was a great day.
"We had a good discussion afterwards and the big theme was criticism of the 'leadership' of the LGBT movement up to now, as well as simple visibility," Lopez told SGN. "Many were confused about ... how to vote for the referendum and how it got to this point."
Lopez points out that, according to him, there seems to be a lack of political consciousness in the LGBT community. However, instead of pointing fingers, he's decided to take this time to educate people on the need for political awareness.
SIGNAL MAJOR SHIFT
IN GAY COMMUNITY
"The community's been overwhelmingly responsive and actually appreciates that we're going out into the community," Lopez said. "QAC's presence was, after all, the first public presence on Broadway of the Approve R-71 Campaign. Given the financial weakness of the campaign because of the recession, what better way to get the message out for free than hundreds, if not thousands, of Approve R-71 posters across Capitol Hill and throughout Seattle?"
Lopez said he could see a major shift in the Gay movement, in that; straight allies really are out there.
"There's a myth about hostility between Gay men and straight men," he said. "The truth is that 75% of Americans know someone who is LGBT, and we all know that when you know an LGBT person, you're more likely to support their equal rights."
He said the right wing loves to say that those who support Gay marriage are a small minority of homosexual activists trying to force their lifestyle on an innocent and unsuspecting heterosexual population. This, he said, is an outright lie.
"Our straight brothers and sisters want to show their solidarity and support," said Lopez. "This is a historical shift from previous moments in our movement, when straight people were actively kept out of the movement. That there are so many straight allies who are fed up with homophobia & is a huge advantage, and it's time we recognize that reality."
QAC officials are asking people to call into radio stations to voice support for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign. Lopez said he remembers listening to a local radio station last year, after Prop 8 passed, and the DJ was a Lesbian who spoke of how angry and hurt she was. He said the idea clicked: What better way to get the message out than to have LGBT equality supporters call their favorite morning radio shows and tell everyone to vote to approve R-71? Lopez points out that calling in is free, and that most of the stations are based out of Seattle and are already allies.
Lopez said those who oppose the approval of R-71 are directly attacking the LGBT community in Washington. He said R-71 like Prop 8, as it is "about taking rights away." He says nearly 90% of the country supports ending discrimination against LGBT persons in the workplace, and a majority - including a majority of Republicans - support an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"On issue after issue, the majority of Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of equal rights for LGBT people, and those numbers keep going up [as] more people see us fighting a dignified, confident, and proud fight," Lopez told SGN. "We know, according to the 2008 University of Washington study, that at least 66% of Washingtonians either support marriage equality or support legal recognition of LGBT couples in the form of civil unions or domestic partnerships. That's a two-thirds majority who are already on our side. If we get everyone who already supports us to vote to approve R-71, we will win this by a landslide and we'll dance in the streets like we did last General Election Day."
But, Lopez admits, getting everyone to vote can be a big obstacle. "We have to get our supporters - especially the younger LGBT community - to actually register and vote in this off-year election."
"We can win this if we want to. We have to," he said. "The consequences are huge. If the bigots win, they won't stop at this. We know they'll gain confidence and fight to take even more rights away."
The QAC holds a weekly organizing meeting Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. at Cascade People's Center, 309 Pontius Ave. N., in Seattle. For more information about QAC, visit the organization's websites at www.queerallycoalition.org and www.NationalMarch.seattleOUTprotest.org.
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