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posted Friday, July 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 27
Friedes: Marriage equality in WA achievable in 2012
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Friedes: Marriage equality in WA achievable in 2012

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Josh Friedes is synonymous with LGBT equality. It's what he knows. It's what he is good at. Friedes has served in a number of roles with Equal Rights Washington (ERW), the state's leading LGBT advocacy organization, since he arrived from Mass Equality and the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts a few years ago. For two years, he served as ERW's advocacy director, was the campaign manager of Washington Families Standing Together (the coalition behind the successful Approve Washington Referendum 71 campaign), and in March of 2010, Friedes was promoted to head up ERW in the role of executive director.

At ERW, Friedes led its advocacy through five consecutive successful legislative sessions that, among other things, brought anti-bullying legislation, protected Transgender people under our hate-crimes statute, and three successive domestic partnership bills.

In short, when Friedes speaks on LGBT equality - marriage in particular - people listen. Currently, Friedes has a lot to say.

'I think marriage equality in Washington state could be achievable as early as 2012,' Friedes told Seattle Gay News in a July 7 interview.

Friedes said that in order to achieve this lofty goal, he has stepped out of the role as ERW's executive director to focus on what he does best: marriage equality.

'It was clear to the board that now is the time for ERW to further intensify our efforts to secure marriage equality in Washington state as early as 2012,' said ERW Board Chair Dr. Shilpen Patel.

'As ERW's marriage equality director, I will get out of the office and travel around the state to speak with people about marriage equality,' he said. 'Although there is a variety of ways to secure marriage equality in our state, none of them will be possible without public support.'

Friedes says that, with the help of the momentous win in New York and an incredible base of skilled advocates, he intends to drum up the public support needed to bring, once and for all, marriage equality to Washington.

According to ERW officials, Rod Hearne, an activist and fundraiser for civil rights causes, will serve as the organization's new executive director, effective immediately. Hearne and his partner, Roger Nyhus, are fixtures in Seattle's progressive political scene. As ERW's top administrator, Hearne will oversee the education fund, lobbying, and other aspects that make up the advocacy organization's core.

'Nationally, and especially in Washington, there is growing momentum to achieve marriage equality. The issue is so huge we wanted Josh to be able to focus full-time on building the movement for marriage equality in Washington,' said Hearne, previously an ERW board member.

'Being an executive director is the most important job in any organization,' Friedes said, 'but at this critical moment in our movement for marriage equality, I really wanted to be back in the trenches working with leaders of diverse communities and organizations to develop a marriage equality majority in the electorate and the Legislature. I'm thrilled that the board is allowing me to do the work I love and that Rod Hearne, one of the most talented leaders in the community, has agreed to step into the role of executive director.'

Friedes said he believes that Washington state is better situated than most other states to achieve marriage equality because 'we have a more unified community.'

He may be on to something. During the successful Referendum 71 campaign, there was no opposition from within the LGBT community. In addition, Washington has a number of elected openly Lesbian and Gay legislators.

'The moral, strategic leadership that we enjoy is unprecedented,' he said. 'A huge amount of furthering LGBT equality in Washington is due to them. They can, and will, continue to play a role in bringing marriage equality to Washington.'

Friedes says that leaders like House Majority Caucus Chair Senator Ed Murray (D-43), Representative Jamie Pederesen (D-43), Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-27), and Representative Marko Liias (D-21) - to name a few - deserve recognition for their courage as they have 'not been afraid to stand up for LGBT equality.'

'Equal Rights Washington fills an important niche in our diverse community with its great volunteer base and its lobbying work for civil rights bills in the legislature. By devoting Josh Friedes full-time to marriage equality, it will help engage and activate the people, organizations, and resources we need to make it happen in Washington,' said Senator Ed Murray of Seattle.

'I've sponsored legislation to bring marriage equality to Washington state, but it's going to take a huge effort to make that happen. I'm glad that ERW is stepping up, and I look forward to working with Josh, Rod, and the ERW team,' said Representative Jim Moeller of Vancouver.

Recent polling shows Washington has an increasingly pro-marriage equality electorate. Several recent studies suggest that Washington state has a better chance of securing marriage equality at the ballot box than almost any other state in the union that does not already have marriage.

Thomas Pitchford, development and outreach director for ERW, told the organization's supporters in July 5 email message that since New York Governor Cuomo's signing of the marriage bill in New York, ERW advocates sent nearly 10,000 e-mails to Washington's elected leaders calling for marriage equality. He said in the days immediately following the vote in New York, Washington residents signed 3,000 ERW marriage equality postcards.

In July, ERW will collect postcards at events in Pierce, Clark, Skagit, and Benton counties, said Pitchford. ERW also regularly sends supporter postcards to legislators in Olympia.

'In the next month, ERW will invest $30,000 in research to determine how best to solidify a marriage equality majority in the electorate,' Pitchford said. 'This is critical to developing a winning strategy to educate voters and engage those who are already our supporters.'

In addition, Pitchford said, 'We are conducting meetings with a number of stakeholders including LGBT and non-LGBT organizations, faith communities, donors and foundations, small and large businesses, elected leaders, unions and professional associations, and many other groups across Washington. Gaining insight and involvement from stakeholders is the best way to ensure we build a unified, strategic, and transparent campaign to secure marriage equality.'

Friedes told Seattle Gay News that everyone who wants marriage equality for Washington state should have the same mantra: build strong public support.

'We've got to keep our eyes on the prize,' he said. 'We are not going to wait until the final weeks and months of a campaign. Now is the time to do the work. We are simply moving up the timeframe.'

For more information about ERW or to make a donation to the organization, visit www.equalrightswashington.org.

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