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National NOW Times >> Fall, 2001 >> Article

NOW Acts

by Cindy Hanford

Standing Up Against Homophobia

Winter Park Area (Florida) NOW, in coalition with the Rainbow Democratic Club, protested against the homophobic remarks of State Representative Allen Trovillion. Trovillion received national media attention for castigating four gay students who met with him on Equality Florida Youth Lobby Day (April 9). The students asked for his support for the Florida Dignity for All Students Act, legislation which would extend civil-rights protections to lesbian and gay students in Florida schools.

Trovillion told the students: “You have to suffer the consequences of your actions,” and “The Scripture says that no homosexual will see the Kingdom of God.” Trovillion also stated: “You’re throwing your life away,” and “I don’t understand why the gay population is becoming so vocal. You are going to cause the downfall of this country.” A Tampa Tribune intern took notes of the meeting and the story was reported the next day. Trovillion was unswayed by personal stories of anti-gay violence in schools. “God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and he is going to destroy you and a lot of others,” Trovillion told the students. The legislator also opposes women’s reproductive rights and once catered a lunch for more than 100 Operation Rescue protesters across the street from an abortion clinic.

The ensuing “Recall Trovillion” protest drew 100 sign-waving protesters singing “We Shall Overcome” near Trovillion’s Winter Park office. The chapter circulated petitions calling for his ouster. Because of term limits, Trovillion cannot run for the same seat in the next election. Winter Park Area NOW’s Legislative Vice President Mary Wilson said, “With today’s e-mail, I can invite a few like-minded friends to stand with me, and voila, there are a hundred people holding up posters and rainbow flags.”

Restoring Voting Rights

During May and June, the Winter Park Area chapter held special voter registration campaigns. The focus was to help ex-felons regain their civil rights. In Florida, as in many other states, voting rights are not automatically restored to felons who have completed their sentences. Wilson states: “The Restoration of Rights process is difficult, slow and discriminatory. Last year Governor Jeb Bush restored rights to fewer than 800 ex-felons, a small fraction of the number (some 7000) who were eligible. Whether by design or oversight, this factor alone could have changed the results of the 2000 presidential election.” The Winter Park Area Chapter continues to distribute Rights Restoration packets.

The chapter is also educating the public about how voters registered with “no party affiliation” are disenfranchised in the primary election. The chapter plans to continue their efforts until the restoration of rights is automatic and open primaries become law. Wilson comments, “We hope that every NOW chapter will investigate the process in their state and do what they can to help.”

Winning Representation in Redistricting

The Albuquerque (New Mexico) NOW chapter was instrumental in compelling their City Council to appoint women and people of color to the city’s 18-member redistricting committee. The purpose of the committee is to redraw the boundaries of the City Council districts based on the results of the recent census.

Each Council member appointed two members to the redistricting committee, a voting member and an alternate. As originally comprised, the committee consisted exclusively of white and Latino males. On April 12, Bonnie Rucobo, President of Albuquerque NOW, appeared before the redistricting committee to protest the lack of representation of women, African-Americans, Native Americans and Asians. She suggested that five members of the committee step down so that women and people of color could be represented. Appearing with Rucobo were Albuquerque NOW members Carolyn Glen Kay and Kathy Gilmore.

“We believe that the process of redistricting based on the recent census results is too crucial to proceed without the direct input of all groups comprising the city’s population,” Rucobo told the committee. “The sensitive process of enforcing minority voting rights will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, without the direct involvement of minority communities.” The committee deliberated on Rucobo’s proposal for 20 minutes before deciding to take the issue back to the City Council.

Subsequently, the City Council appointed two women – one African-American and one Navajo – to join the redistricting committee, but only as alternates without voting power. Mayor Jim Baca vetoed the first redistricting proposal that came across his desk for lacking community input. The Council ultimately passed a redistricting plan that allowed for four districts in which the majority of the population is composed of racial or ethnic minorities. This positive result was achieved because of pressure from community groups like NOW and the NAACP. The City’s Human Rights Board is proposing an amendment to the City Charter to add language so that future redistricting committees will “reflect the racial/ethnic and gender makeup of the city’s population.”

Protesting Bush Policies

On June 21, members of Greater Birmingham (Alabama) NOW joined with the Sierra Club and other statewide activists to protest at a public appearance by George W. Bush. About 200 protesters chanted slogans, concentrating on the message that Bush’s policies will adversely impact the environment. Bush was in town to raise money for the re-election campaign of Senator Jeff Sessions, a conservative Republican.

On June 10, Greater Birmingham NOW participated in the local Gay Pride celebration. Chapter treasurer Rachael Doughty states: “This has been an annual event for our local chapter for years, and we are proud to continue the tradition.”

Challenging "Fetal Personhood" Efforts

The Richmond NOW chapter protested at the Virginia State Capitol on August 1 against proposed federal and state policies to bestow legal rights on a fetus. Chapter President Betsey Powell, interviewed by the local ABC station, stated: “The policies and bills coming out of the Bush administration to establish fetuses as individuals almost guarantee that women’s reproductive rights will not be protected.”

The chapter decided to protest after the Bush administration announced a new policy that would allow states to define a fetus as a person eligible for medical coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Merely a ploy to extend legal status to a fetus, Bush actually plans to cut Maternal and Child Health Block Grants. Activists noted that Medicaid could be expanded to include more pregnant women without granting personhood to a fetus, but probably won’t be because prenatal care is not part of Bush’s agenda.

The Richmond chapter also protested the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would grant legal status for a fetus that is injured or killed during an attack on the mother. Powell noted that abortion opponents “are trying to build support for the notion that the fetus has legal rights independent of the woman carrying it in her womb. This would have the effect of a pregnant woman being held accountable for anything affecting her fetus. Richmond NOW is convinced that these efforts are attempts to negate the protections of Roe v. Wade and to make abortion punishable as murder.”

Among the protesters’ signs: “‘Fetal Rights’ Must Not Be Separate from Women’s Rights” and “A Woman is Worth Insuring.”

Many thanks for information provided by: Mary Ann May-Pumphrey and Jinda Mulvey of San Jose/South Bay NOW; Sandy Oestreich of Pinellas NOW; Mary Wilson of Winter Park Area NOW; Bonnie Rucobo of Albuquerque NOW; Rachael Doughty of Greater Birmingham NOW; and Betsey Powell of Richmond NOW.

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