by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Before Washington United for Marriage - the mainstream campaign credited with winning marriage equality at the ballot box in Washington - was created, Equal Rights Washington (ERW) stood at the helm guiding progressive voters in the state towards a more Democratic and equal future. In fact, some would make the argument that had it not been for the years-long efforts put forth by ERW and the groups that came before it, there would be no Washington United for Marriage.
On December 12, elected officials, community organizations, representatives of the business sector, and members of the greater Seattle LGBT community came together to toast equality and savor the historic win that the Gay rights movement earned on Election Day 2012. The occasion was so momentous that even outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire couldn't resist. At the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle that morning, she and Governor-elect Jay Inslee were the headliners.
Equal Rights Washington (ERW) is a statewide political advocacy organization for the LGBT community of Washington State. ERW has successfully advocated for the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Law, the creation of the state domestic partnership registry, the further expansion of domestic partnership protections, and the passage of the Healthy Youth Act. The group works to organize the movement for equality, educate voters, and influence policy makers.
'We continue to advocate for the expansion of protections available to committed gay couples and their children while working toward marriage equality,' ERW officials said. 'We also work to ensure that health care providers meet the needs of an aging LGBT community.'
THE TASK AHEAD
Toasting Equality, now in its fourth year, is the annual breakfast that ERW holds to bring together elected officials and community members, organizations, and groups to celebrate that year's successes and talk about the next year's goals.
This year, the theme was 'Celebrating Marriage Equality and Looking Beyond.'
'We at ERW are ecstatic that the goal of marriage equality in Washington state has been accomplished after a decade of devoting resources, staff, and time to this effort,' the organization said in an e-mail to supporters. 'It is easy for our community to be tempted to rest on its laurels after such tremendous strides for equality. And yet, there is so much left to do before we can truly say 'Mission Accomplished.'
In 2013, according to officials, ERW will continue its conversations with community leaders and elected officials about how it can address the pressing needs of LGBT Washingtonians.
'ERW has many issues on its list to ensure and promote dignity, safety, and equality for all Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Washingtonians,' said officials.
The to-do list includes youth at risk, Transgender rights, our aging LGBT population, immigration, employment discrimination, federal recognition of marriage equality, and HIV/AIDS.
MORE SUPPORT NEEDED
'In many cases in regards to equality for members of Washington's LGBT community, there is a state law,' said officials. 'Through lobbying, Equality Days in Olympia, online petitions, e-mails and phone calls to our state lawmakers, ERW supporters and coalition partners have successfully helped pass legislation over the last 10 years that benefits the LGBT community. However, in terms of results, it is not always the letter of the law being violated, but its spirit. The necessary funding and education needed to make these laws achieve their intent have often been lacking.'
ERW has been effective in achieving its legislative goals by meeting with LGBTQ community leaders and obtaining consensus about LGBT priorities and strategies. This was key to forming the framework of the vast coalition that came together to form Washington United for Marriage.
'Coalition and consensus-building is consuming, painstaking and necessary work,' said ERW. 'This work is often compared to herding cats, and is not readily visible to the public at large. But it remains a necessary ingredient for advancing social justice.'
Donations made to ERW will, according to the group, 'allow us to keep the infrastructure in place to be a community partner engaging in the conversation that will lead to our state's next advances for LGBT equality.'
THANKS TO ALL
In attendance at the December 12 event were State Senate Majority Leader Ed Murray; State Representatives Jamie Pedersen and Laurie Jinkins; Washington United for Marriage Chair and HRC Board Member Lacey All; Josh Friedes of ERW; David Haack of SAGE; Marsha Botzer, founder of Ingersoll Gender Center; Marcos Martinez, executive director of Entre Hermanos; Debbie Carlsen, director of Allyship; Louise Chernin, executive director of the Greater Seattle Business Association; and Seattle Council President Sally Clark - just to name a few.
At the event ERW thanked Gov. Gregoire for signing the bill that the electorate ultimately approved. Also receiving kudos were state legislators who voted for marriage equality, led by Rep. Pedersen and Sen. Murray; the staff and governing committee of Washington United for Marriage for their hard work and smart campaign to defend the freedom to marry under Referendum 74; and the broad coalition of nonprofit, labor, faith, business, students, educators, and committed individuals and donors who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to see this day happen.
The organization also acknowledged its former director of marriage equality and current spokesperson, Joshua Friedes, for his vision and tenacity, and the ERW board members for their role in a long process that ultimately proved fruitful. Another former director, Rod Hearne, was in attendance as well.
NEW FUND CHAIR NAMED
Also at the breakfast, Monisha Harrell was announced as the 2013 chairperson of the ERW Education Fund. Harrell told the audience that there is a lot left to do and that ERW will continue to advocate for candidates and issues that work toward bringing equality to the citizens of Washington and beyond.
The Education Fund's mission is to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Washington. A nonprofit, the Fund seeks to do so by facilitating and coordinating the efforts of the LGBT and allied community that are directed to research, education, and community mobilization. It is the educational sister organization to Equal Rights Washington.
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