The Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, was in Montgomery, Alabama, last night to discuss the launch of a new gay rights campaign targeting three Southern states: Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Project One America, as it’s called, is a three year, $8.5 million dollar effort to secure marriage rights and other protections, such as employment non-discrimination against LGBT people, at the state and local level. I attended the meeting, but my post today is not going to be to talk about all that was discussed there. We were asked not to blog or tweet about issues and personal stories shared at the meeting, so that the meeting could be an open and inviting place to talk. I was a bit disappointed because that is what I had planned my blog topic to be today, so instead I am going to discuss the new HRC program, Project One America, which was behind the meeting last night.
The President of the HRC, Chad Griffin grew up in Arkansas and much of his family is still there. With a Southerner at the helm, the HRC has finally decided to pay attention to the South, which it has largely ignored during much of its existence, except for a source of campaign contributions. When asked if him being a southerner had anything to do with why HRC is launching a campaign in the South, Griffin replied:
No, it doesn’t, but I can certainly tell you that it informed this work. There is no question that my experience growing up as a kid of the South, deeply closeted, growing up Southern Baptist, going to church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and usually Wednesday nights too certainly informs my experiences and how I approach this work.
But the reason we are going to these three states specifically is there are a few things that are unique about these states. Number one, these three states are – unlike other states across the country, including the South – three states that have no fully-resourced statewide LGBT groups. So, no full time paid staff that are working day in and day out on behalf of equality.
The second, and really important and unique difference about these three states is that they’re the only three states where there’s no statewide non-discrimination protection, there’s not even a single city or municipality that has workplace non-discrimination, or public accommodation, or housing non-discrimination ordinances or laws.
So, those two things make these three states uniquely situated and, quite frankly, these three states need this work and need this investment. They have been dramatically underresourced, and we intend to change that.
Unlike other states in the South — including Texas, Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina — these three states lack fully resourced and staffed LGBT statewide equality campaigns. According to a report by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, in 2011-2012, grant funding for LGBT advocacy totaled $10.10 for per LGBT adult in the Northeast. That number was only $1.71 per LGBT adult in the South. In these three states, the numbers are $0.71 per LGBT adult in Mississippi, $0.35 per LGBT adult in Arkansas, and $0.31 per LGBT adult in Alabama.
The HRC has nine launch goals for Alabama:
1. Empower LGBT people (and straight allies) to come out.
2. Raise the visibility of LGBT people and issues with the general public.
3. Create safer environments for LGBT young people.
4. Build partnerships with faith communities, communities of color, business communities, and conservatives.
5. Create a more inclusive workplace for LGBT people
6. Build support for enduring legal protections that ensure LGBT equality.
7. Expand participation in HRC’s Municipal Equality Index in these three states.
8. Create a more inclusive healthcare environment for LGBT people
9. Equip LGBT people and non-traditional allies as spokespeople.
For the HRC to be successful they will have to number one, and first and foremost, change the hearts and minds of Alabamians. They can change hearts and minds by building bridges and by having a conversation with business leaders, with faith and religious leaders, with community leaders, and also with elected officials at the community level and at the state level. The HRC plans to accomplish this by having organizers: community organizers, organizers in the business community, organizers in the faith and religious community. Ultimately, our goal will be to bring about the much needed protections at the local, as well as ultimately at the state level.
A greater presence in the South is something Griffin has talked about since He became HRC President. The Human Rights Campaign is also the single largest organizer in the South. One-third of our members are from the South – which is a surprising number to me. That’s over 500,000 HRC members who are from the South, including over 60,000 just in these three states alone.
So after the Supreme Court made that historic decision just a year ago, it became quite clear that we have two Americas when it comes to equality. We have the ‘haves,’ largely situated along the coast with a couple of bright spots in the middle, and then we have the ‘have-nots’ when it comes to legal equality, and that’s places like Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. So, Project One America is designed to specifically close that gap.
Chad Griffin says that he is absolutely optimistic that the South is, in fact, ready for equality. But he said he wanted to underscore that this is hard work. It will be a lot of work, and it won’t be easy. The South is not going to become a place for LGBT equality overnight, but with the right education, involvement, and momentum, it will happen.