Lobby Days Loom

New leaders prepare to make GLBT constituents' voices heard

Equal rights organizations in Maryland and Virginia both bid farewell to their longtime leaders last year, making way for two new leaders to head the organizations in 2009. And each is already preparing for his or her first lobby day as executive director.

First up is Equality Virginia’s all-day affair, on Tuesday, Jan. 27, in Richmond.

EV Executive Director Jon Blair, who took the reins Jan. 5, says Lobby Day is a big project for the organization, ”because we take it so seriously.”

Organizers of Equality Virginia’s and Equality Maryland’s lobby days will offer training and help prepare constituents for this legislative fieldwork by providing the information necessary to be able to talk to their representatives about some of their GLBT-related concerns.

Blair says that this year Equality Virginia is focusing on two bills specifically:

”The first is an employment non-discrimination bill, which is a [transgender] inclusive bill that we expect [openly gay Del.] Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) to patron,” he says. ”It’s not assigned a number yet, but it’s just us focusing on making sure that every employee has the freedom to work in an environment free from discrimination.”

In Virginia, there is currently no statewide law that prohibits discrimination based on real or perceived orientation or gender identity.

The second bill is House Bill 1726.

”This bill will allow domestic partners to be covered in employer-provided, life-insurance policies,” Blair says of the bill that is sponsored by Republican Del. Tom Rust of Fairfax.

Blair, who is straight, says success is feasible on both fronts.

”When we are successful these will be two tangible steps towards equality for all Virginians.”

In Maryland, GLBT residents will have a chance to meet with their legislators in Annapolis on Monday evening, Feb. 2, during Equality Maryland’s Lobby Day.

”We’re excited this year about Lobby Day because we have a ‘People of Faith’ focus, and the events will involve Bishop Gene Robinson, the first out gay bishop and Episcopal priest, from New Hampshire, who will be the primary speaker,” says Kate Runyon, who began leading Equality Maryland on Dec. 8.

Runyon hopes to reach people of faith through the effort. ”We’d like to showcase the fact that we can be people of faith … and we can also be supportive of equality in society.”

Maryland activists, she says, will be focusing their efforts on reintroducing the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act to recognize same-sex marriage; reintroducing the Gender Identity and Expression Anti-Discrimination Act; and lobbying for an inheritance-tax exemption bill that would include same-sex domestic partners.

”The last thing we’ll be working on will be legal rights for co-parents, … a bill that would allow a co-parent without a legal or biological relationship to a child to have the ability to petition the court for custody, or visitation rights to the child that they parented.”

For GLBT Marylanders who have not attended Lobby Day before, Runyon who has attended Lobby Day in Michigan while serving as executive director of the Triangle Foundation, says this is the perfect time to become politically involved.

”Sometimes elected officials aren’t even aware of the folks that they are representing from their districts, and so this is an easy way to enter into being more involved in having a voice politically.”

Runyon says 2009 is particularly important for GLBT families.

”Some of the legislation that we’re working on definitely impacts some families, so when an elected official can hear directly from a child of a family that will be directly affected, that might be a very, very strong way to have them think a little bit about supporting the legislation.”

In addition to meeting with legislators, GLBT people living in Maryland and Virginia also have the opportunity to meet with Runyon in Annapolis, and Blair, who has not attended Lobby Day before, in Richmond.

”The reaction has been great,” Blair says of people’s reaction to hearing that he’s straight. ”Equality is a basic human right. You don’t have to be G, L, B or T to believe in it.”

Equality Virginia’s Lobby Day is scheduled for 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., starting at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. A Legislative Reception is scheduled for 5:30-7 p.m. For details, visit www.equalityvirginia.org. Equality Maryland’s Lobby Day is scheduled for 4-8 p.m. at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis. For details, visit www.equalitymaryland.org.

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