NOW Battles Maine Anti-Lesbian/Gay Initiative

by Kimberlee M. Ward

As radical right forces in Idaho begin gathering signatures for a 1996 ballot initiative that would prohibit civil rights laws to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, NOW is waging a campaign in Maine to combat a similar initiative, Question 1, on the ballot Nov. 7.

 National NOW leaders and state and chapters activists have been working together to organize a campus speaking tour, joint chapter/campus workshops and voter registration drives to mobilize activists and defeat the referendum. As women are the key to victory in this campaign, NOW's participation is critical.

 NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey has been delivering a speech, entitled "Stopping the Politics of Hate," that analyzes and counters the hate-filled propaganda of radical right attacks. Dempsey is also conducting workshops that provide campus activists with NOW's time-honored organizing skills and a focus on coalition building among student groups and local NOW chapters. The response from Maine students has been overwhelmingly positive.

 In honor of the 75th anniversary of women's suffrage, women's groups and lesbian and gay alliances have committed to making students' voices heard in the fight for equality. NOW has provided student leaders with campus organizing kits that include a model to implement voter registration drives and phone banks on campus. With an eye toward the 1996 elections, we are working to build progressive student alliances that are firmly linked to NOW chapters. In addition to the campus tour, NOW activists will educate and mobilize voters across the state with door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and Get Out The Vote efforts.

 Maine's Question 1 is just one of many attacks by the radical right, attempting to impose their ultra-conservative agenda on the rest of the nation. A Merrimack, N.H., school board recently caved in to radical right coercion and voted to prohibit any mention of homosexuality in the classroom, and to cut funding for suicide prevention programs specifically geared toward lesbian and gay youth, who commit suicide three times more than their heterosexual peers.

 In an effort to apply the New Hampshire decision on a federal level, the radical right pressured Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., to hold congressional hearings targeting diversity in schools. NOW participated in lobbying efforts that successfully postponed the hearings, but the homophobic spectacle should be completely cancelled.

 In addition to congressional conservatism, Republican presidential hopefuls are falling over themselves to gain the support of the radical right. Clearly pandering to the right wing, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., returned a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Log Cabin Republicans, a lesbian and gay political organization. In a blatantly homophobic move to the right, Dole claimed he could not receive support from a group whose platform differed so much from his own, especially Log Cabin's position on allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military. However, Dole had no problem appointing Sen. Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., to a senior position in the Dole for President campaign, despite 'Amato's unequivocal position on allowing anyone to serve their country, regardless of sexual orientation.

 In a harshly worded letter, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., admonished Dole for his poor decision to return the funds, and asked if Dole would prefer that Gunderson, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, withdraw his long-standing support of Dole's presidential campaign.

 In September, Dole joined other radical right presidential hopefuls in addressing the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" conference in Washington, D.C. Conference attendees were greeted with the "Road to Tolerance" protest, which included a significant NOW presence. In our commitment to freedom and equality, NOW will continue our vigilant watch over the Radical Right's politics of hatred.

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