by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
Equal Rights Washington (ERW) Executive Director Connie Watts has announced to SGN she will be leaving the organization at the beginning of next year. Watts said that after two and a half years as the organization's leader, she plans to pursue her "lifelong dream of going to law school." The board of ERW has put a transition team in place and, according to Watts, that team is charged with taking the next steps towards selecting a new executive director.
ERW is a statewide political advocacy organization for the LGBT community of Washington State. ERW works to ensure and promote dignity, safety, and equality for LGBT Washingtonians. According to ERW, there are many issues that affect Washington State's LGBT individuals, couples and families. The organization lists adoption, aging, discrimination, elections, hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, immigration, marriage equality, Transgender and youth concerns as areas of focus and issues that ultimately affect the entire community, its quality of life, and commitment to justice.
"I have so many great memories during my time at ERW," Watts told SGN. "It's hard to believe how much we packed into the last few years," she said, referring to the last three years when ERW led the charge to pass all the phases of the state domestic partnership laws.
"One of the greatest days was in Olympia on the first day that couples could register for domestic partnerships," Watts said. "It was so much fun to see such diversity in the couples lined up to get their first rights as partners. The optimism, the hope, the sheer joy - was just incredible that day."
Another memorable moment for Watts was the November 2008 march and rally following the vote on Proposition 8 in California. "What a day! To see nearly 10,000 people march in the streets of Seattle was inspirational," she recalled.
Watts says she is proud that ERW has worked aggressively to advance protections for the Transgender members of the community. "We had a great victory party when we won King County Charter Change Amendment 2 which included gender identity in the King County anti-discrimination law," she told SGN. "It was a tricky issue because people had to vote affirmatively and the question was way down on the bottom of the ballot. It was a real challenge to inform people about it."
Without ERW, according to Watts, the critical infrastructure for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign would not have been in place. The campaign was declared a success on November 3, when Washington voters approved Referendum 71, upholding a state law that provides important legal protections and the same rights and responsibilities for same-sex and senior registered domestic partnerships. "The Referendum 71 victory was huge!" said Watts.
Following the Approve 71 victory, she says ERW must look to the future and the next critical steps to "advance not only marriage equality, but all of the issues the LGBT community is facing."
"ERW is critical to advancing equality for LGBT issues on all fronts for the entire state of Washington," Watts told SGN. "Without the ongoing public education, legislative, and electoral work the organization undertakes, I firmly believe that not as much progress towards equality would have taken place."
Watts says today, ERW is in a better place than ever before in it's history. "On the heels of the historic win of Referendum 71, now is a great time for the organization to look to the future, to the next chapter and to leadership to see that chapter through," she said. "I've been thrilled to be a part of this great organization and I plan to be ERW's biggest fan moving forward."
Watts said she is excited about starting law school, which will be another accolade to add to her already-impressive resume of advocacy and public relations experience. Watts, who is originally from Utah, lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked for seven years as National Field Director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. During her 18-year tenure at Planned Parenthood, Watts worked closely with affiliates from across the country. Among her many accomplishments, she headed the organization's efforts toward the March for Women's Lives, the largest march on Washington, D.C. in US history. Since moving to Washington State, Watts has worked alongside ERW to advocate on behalf of the LGBT community.
Watts and her partner are the proud parents of a son.
"I feel very lucky to have been introduced to this great state through my work at ERW," she said. "I love it here and I love the people who support the work of ERW throughout the state."
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