OMAHA, NE – The Equality Pledge Network demands Congress “Add 4 Words” – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to various laws passed by Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The new campaign for full LGBT equality, backed by over 245 organizations, will officially launch with an LGBT Civil Rights Vigil at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C. beginning at 8:30 p.m., Monday, June 30th. The theme of the event is “Add 4 Words” reflecting the demand to add Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The event also celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of July 2nd.
A new organization, LGBTequalityNOW.org, has been created to facilitate the Network, led by a wealth of veteran experience and diversity, including Erica Keppler, Chair of the Arizona Stonewall Democrats; Cathy Marino-Thomas, former chair of Marriage Equality USA; Veronica Eady, a straight-ally and African-American civil rights attorney currently at the Conservation Law Foundation; Josef Pons de Jesus previously with ACT-UP NY, Human Rights Campaign, and the National Latino Lesbian & Gay Organization; Pablo Colon, former community outreach and advocacy director at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis NY; Attorney Yetta Kurland, former candidate for City Council in NY and a human rights advocate; Michael Miller, formerly with the AIDS Action Committee of Boston and Harvard AIDS Institute; and Executive Director and Board Chairperson, J. Todd Fernandez, Esquire, former Ombudsman to the Governor and General Council and Legislative Director for Economic Affairs of Massachusetts.
The new network is uniting the grassroots and state groups like never before, breaking the corporate insider mold with direct empowerment of local experts. Over 40 activists in 22 states are serving as volunteer state leads, including Attorney Peter Sergienko working with his gay son Eugene in Oregon; Richard Noble, from the Walk Across America; Attorney Stephen Zollman of the National Equality March; Jeff White-Perkins from Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center; straight-ally Jean Kryean of Pennsylvania, and Mika Covington and Ken Riter, who have joined forces in Iowa and Nebraska.
The new strategy is in sharp contrast to the Human Rights Campaign’s push for the Employment Nondiscrimination Law, now embroiled in community dissent because of the religious-exemptions that would leave our most vulnerable children behind. Groups including the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Equality California, Queer Nation NY, Equality Illinois, and others, strongly oppose the Senate version of ENDA, which would ensconce in federal law anti-LGBT discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs, as a concession for Republican votes, that entirely misses the point of organizing for social change.
“Seeking full equality is not just a legislative agenda, but is the antidote to the vast harm LGBT Americans endure under discrimination, which causes children to commit suicide, and keeps 53% of LGBT workers in the closet, living in daily fear,” said Todd Fernandez, campaign manager for The Equality Pledge Network. “The ENDA compromises are a sign of our movement’s strategic weaknesses, and they should not be accepted until we have first united in full force nationwide. We won this debate in Arizona with Republican Senators’ support, and it’s the debate we need to have as a nation to heal homophobia and transphobia in our culture.”
The Network’s information-filled website advances two main arguments: 1. That international law requires Congress to outlaw SO-GI discrimination, and 2. That the vast harm caused by discrimination, known as “minority stress,” makes this a public health emergency. As support, the site includes the United Nation’s Free & Equal campaign, the historic speech by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaiming “gay rights are human rights,” and congressional expert testimony of Dr. Illan Meyers of the Williams Institute, backed by official reports of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the American Psychological Association, and others.
The 2014 Campaign goals include 1. Increasing Pledge support from 245 to 500 organizations, 2. Establishing state leads in all 50 states, 3. Conducting a 2014 Equality Poll to map support in Congress, and 4. Mounting a PSA campaign about the “minority stress” impact including suicide and mental health disparities, such as depression, anxiety, and hypervigiliance.
The vigil will feature pictures of LGBT Americans lost to suicide and murder, Activists and religious leaders will carry rainbow flags and herald the contributions of LGBT civil rights heroes Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the way on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Bayard Rustin, the gay human rights leader who was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work leading to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which his community yearns to join.
Ken Riter, Nebraskans for Equality: “Nebraskans for Equality is proud and excited to be part of a new dialogue for LGBT equality. It is time LGBT people learn about other areas of their rights as Americans that deserve full equal attention under the law.”
Mika Covington, Iowa State Pledge Lead: “”As an new Iowan, I have come to experience equal rights here in Iowa. They are awesome. However, they are constantly under attack and we have to constantly fight to keep them. This is why it is more important than ever to get full federal human rights for everyone no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. The fight forward is not over until all humans have full and equal human right.”