NOW, Students Defeat Anti-Lesbian/Gay Measure



by Kimberlee Ward

The get-out-the-vote team at Bowdoin College in Maine (pictured, left to right): Sharon Pedersen, NOW Lesbian Rights Coordinator Kimberlee Ward, Lori Cohen, NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey, Claire Wilson, Patti Gerhardt, Alexa Schubert and Jaine Lattes.

 NOW and its allies scored a decisive victory in Maine in November, by turning out enough votes to handily defeat the anti-lesbian and gay ballot measure known as Question 1.

 By a solid margin of 53 to 47 percent, Maine voters rejected the hateful measure that would have repealed two existing city laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and would have prohibited future enactment of such laws.

 NOW campaigned vigorously in Maine and our efforts were vital in defeating Question 1. As lesbian rights program director, I spent five weeks organizing in Maine, including a two-week organizing campaign at 12 Maine universities with Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey.

 Dempsey's speech, entitled "Stopping the Politics of Hate," exposed the referendum as a piece of the radical right's national agenda. Her workshops provided students with NOW's well-honed organizing skills and strengthened the bridges between campus activists and local NOW chapters. We carried out or initiated voter registration drives on every campus.

 NOW's efforts were pivotal in turning out student votes in record numbers. Working with dorm leaders and campus activists, we coordinated get-out-the-vote strategies, including shuttling students to the polls, arranging child care and carrying out massive visibility efforts reminding people to "Vote No on 1."

 The positive results of this organizing are abundantly clear. Students at Maine universities voted in overwhelmingly greater margins against the referendum than the general electorate: Voters in university precincts voting "no" ranged from 78 to 84 percent, in contrast to the 53 percent of no votes statewide. (See election results above.)

 "This victory shatters the myth that young people are apathetic about politics," Dempsey said. "Students are vigilant in the fight for equality and clearly understand the power of their vote."

 To emphasize the importance of the women's vote, NOW organized a "Women United Against One" Action Day. Hundreds of women joined forces for a statewide literature drop with Maine Won't Discriminate, a coalition of organizations fighting the referendum.

 Throughout the campaign, NOW organized phone banks and mailings to ensure our members voted No on 1. The Maine Secretary of State's office reported that voter turnout Nov. 7 was the second highest in the state's recent history, with 44.4 percent of potential voters casting a ballot.

 Question 1 was the only anti-lesbian and gay measure on any ballot this year. Voters in Oregon and Idaho defeated similar measures in 1992 and 1994. Colorado's Amendment 2, which passed in 1992, was declared unconstitutional by the state's Supreme Court and never took effect. The appeal of that ruling was recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and a decision is expected by next summer. (See "Hardy Interns Observe Key Lesbian/Gay Rights Case" story above). Leaders of radical right groups in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon are already collecting signatures and gearing up for similar battles next November.

Organizing around the referendum clearly bolstered the existing strength of Maine NOW and nhanced our ability to defeat the radical right's agenda. As we kick off NOW's Equality Countdown Campaign nationally, our grassroots activists are prepared to elect more feminist candidates and defeat any oppressive ballot measures that threaten women's equality.
 
 


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