NOW Calls Activists to Come Out Against Homophobia



by Cindy Jordan, Lesbian Rights Field Organizer and BJ Davis, Action Center Intern
 
NOW activists and interns voiced their opposition to the Hefley amendment and rallied support for lesbian and gay rights at a demonstration on Capitol Hill.  Photo by BJ Davis.

In a climate of increasing anti-lesbian and gay attacks, NOW is organizing its second annual Come Out Against Homophobia campaign. In October, chapters across the country will raise awareness about upcoming votes in Hawaii and Alaska, discriminatory legislation and a public campaign to legitimize homophobia.

Marketing Intolerance

The right wing kicked-off the election season this summer with full-page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and other widely-read newspapers. The ads, paid for by a coalition of radical and religious right wing groups, boasted that homosexuals can find a "way out" through ex-gay ministries.
 
One ad features a woman identified as "wife, mother, former lesbian." The headline reads: "Toward hope and healing for homosexuals." The campaign also uses key public figures such as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and football player Reggie White to boost credibility.
 
The idea that lesbians and gays can change their orientation contradicts the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association and creates a dangerous environment for lesbians and gays, particularly young people. While the ads do not call for physical attacks on homosexuals, they do reinforce stereotypes and misinformation that have plagued the community for years.

"Lesbians and gays are the latest scapegoats of the right wing," said Marion Wagner, chair of NOW's Lesbian Rights Committee. "Inequality pays, so the right wing needs someone to be inferior so that they can forward the cause of discrimination. It's an economic issue by and large."
 
The ads, called the "Truth in Love" campaign, coincided with an onslaught of anti-gay legislation, initiatives and candidates aimed at making lesbian and gay rights a "hot" election issue.

Legislating Discrimination

NOW held a demonstration on Capitol Hill this summer to protest both the ad campaign and the anti-gay legislation making its way through Congress.

In the space of one week, right-wing representatives introduced two adverse amendments to appropriation bills. The Hefley Amendment, named for its author, Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., would have overturned an executive order signed by President Clinton in May. That order bans discrimination against lesbians and gays in the federal workplace. The amendment failed with a 176-252 vote in the House.

The Riggs Amendment, proposed by Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif.,  prohibits federal housing funds to any municipality that requires city-contracted business to offer domestic partner benefits to employees.  The amendment, which is specifically aimed at San Francisco, passed by a two-vote margin in the House. If the amendment becomes law, it will strike a devastating blow to San Francisco - forcing the city to change its domestic partner policy or lose 265 million dollars.

Get Out The Vote

In Madison, Wis., NOW/PAC-endorsed candidate and state representative Tammy Baldwin is running for an open U.S. House seat.  Baldwin was victorious in the Democratic primary, while potential opponent Ron Greer—who ran on a blatantly homophobic platform—lost in the Republican primary.  Greer contended that he would not be put back "in the closet" for speaking his mind and condemning homosexuality, and called Baldwin a "left-wing lesbian" with a "radical agenda."

NOW activists helped elect Baldwin in 1996 as the first open lesbian in the Wisconsin legislature and are campaigning actively for her election to Congress.

Freedom to Marry

In November, Hawaii and Alaska will put the question to voters, in the form of state constitutional amendments, whether equal marriage rights should be extended to lesbians and gays. A loss in either state would be a blow to a movement that has been gaining momentum. The proposed amendments are the product of a fierce national right-wing assault on  families that do not look like their own, and puts all families in jeopardy.

In Hawaii, the GOP is pushing for a constitutional convention, which is required to amend the state constitution.  If they win, the very conservative Hawaii legislature could put anything, including stringent anti-abortion laws, into the constitution.  With the vast resources the right wing is investing in Hawaii, NOW believes that they will push their entire anti-woman, anti-gay agenda.

"It is urgent that we tell the radical right we will not tolerate prejudice and discrimination," said NOW Membership Vice President Karen Johnson. "Now is our chance to speak out and cast our votes for tolerance, equality and justice."

 
Call Congress at 202-224-3121 and tell them how you feel about anti-lesbian and gay legislation. Help your chapter plan a Come Out Against Homophobia action in October.   Contribute what you can to support  NOW's campaign - the Christian Coalition started a phone company and every cent of profit is being sent to Alaska and Hawaii to fuel the campaign to deny lesbians and gays their constitutional rights.
 

 

LESBIAN RIGHTS SUMMIT
Save the Date:
April 23-25, 1999
Washington, D.C.
Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill


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