Monday, October 23, 2000
National and State Groups Partner to Defeat Oregon's Anti-GLBT Ballot Measure 9
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
Activists from across the United States traveled to Oregon this month to boost Oregon efforts to defeat a sweeping anti-gay ballot measure that would prohibit any positive or neutral mention of homosexuality in the public schools, including community colleges. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has partnered with the No On 9 Campaign to run an advanced training
that allows nine up-and-coming campaign managers from eight different states to double the No On 9's field staff and learn from Oregon?s experienced campaign team.
Led by veteran electoral organizer Dave Fleischer of NGLTF, the Oregon effort is the latest NGLTF project aimed at building local and state political power so that one day, ballot measures that attack the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and basic civil rights will be a thing of the past.
NOTE TO EDITORS, REPORTERS AND PRODUCERS: Short descriptions of the nine activists are included at the end of this press release. The activists are from the states of Alaska, California, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Texas.
"NGLTF is building a critical capacity within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement to engage and influence electoral and issue-based campaigns," said Elizabeth Toledo, executive director of NGLTF. "We are preparing for the day when anti-GLBT ballot initiatives are a relic of the past. For that day to come, however, we need to organize and train leaders at the grassroots who are involved in their communities and nationally connected."
Through NGLTF's year-round field program, Fleischer has trained 375 people from 17 states in campaign organizing. NGLTF's political strategy is unique because the nonpartisan organization does not endorse or contribute to candidates but
instead focuses on community organizing and leadership development through local, state and national partnerships.
In April, Fleischer led a training with Oregon activists that was
co-sponsored by Basic Rights Oregon and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Fleischer returned to Oregon with the nine organizers, many of whom previously trained with NGLTF. "By supporting the work of the No On 9 campaign,
these seasoned organizers will be able to expand their campaign experience and bring it back to their communities," said Fleischer. The organizers have volunteered their time and travel expenses to defeat Measure 9.
Recent polls suggest that Measure 9 is in a dead heat. A fundraising letter recently sent out nationally by a right-wing group known as the Pro-Family Law Center of Abiding Truth Ministries indicates that if Measure 9 is successful in Oregon it will attempt to export it to other states.
NGLTF this year is organizing "What's at Stake" election forums in states throughout the country in an effort to educate the GLBT community about the Nov. 7 election and mobilize the communities to take part in grassroots promote the vote efforts. NGLTF already has participated in forums in California,
Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, D.C., and has more forums planned this week in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
NGLTF's work in Oregon is modeled after what local organizers and NGLTF accomplished in Dade County, Florida after the Christian Coalition attempted to put a repeal of a county civil rights ordinance on the ballot for this November. Over a period of eight months, NGLTF worked to bring 13 people for five to 12 days each to work with the SAVE Dade campaign to both strengthen SAVE Dade and give the organizers valuable training to take back to their communities. This model helped SAVE Dade at least temporarily deflect the Christian Coalition's repeal effort.
"What we know from these campaigns is that elections are won when we take the time to build a base of GLBT and pro-GLBT voters, and that takes more than a quick-hit, short-term media strategy," said Fleischer. "It also takes person-to-person conversations with voters to break down the stereotypical thinking of who gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are. Once we explain in plain language the issues voters will be facing, most are on our side. We know this approach works - but we must expand our ability to do person to person campaigning in order to win these elections."
Fleischer added that by using widespread canvassing and voter ID, Basic Rights Oregon has defeated two statewide anti-gay ballot measures in 1992 and 1994.
Even though efforts to place anti-gay initiatives on the ballot have failed in five Michigan cities as well as Dade County, the GLBT community still faces a record number of ballot initiatives this year. A non-discrimination ordinance barely failed in Ferndale, Michigan last February, and California voters
overwhelmingly approved Proposition 22 last March. This November, in addition to Oregon, the GLBT community faces anti-GLBT initiatives in Nebraska and Nevada, and a favorable initiative in Maine.
In Nebraska, voters will decide the fate of an expansive measure that would prohibit any recognition of same-sex partnerships, ranging from same-sex marriage to domestic partner benefits. In Nevada, voters will vote on a measure that would ban same-sex marriages performed in other states. Nevada state law already bans same-sex marriages performed within the state. Maine?s measure would expand the state's civil rights law to include sexual orientation.
NOTE TO EDITORS, REPORTERS AND PRODUCERS: NGLTF will be issuing updated election results on the four state ballot initiatives and on the election in general on the evening of Nov. 7. NGLTF communications staff can be reached by calling 1-800-757-6476.
Short bios of the nine organizers:
- Timothy Higdon of New York City. Higdon previously worked with Fleischer on the SAVEDade campaign, doing field work and fundraising. An IBM marketing manager, Higdon is using his last week of vacation to work in Oregon. "Being in Oregon is a way for me to continue to work with communities across the country
facing ballot-based attacks," Higdon said. "Defeating Measure 9 in Oregon is important to the rest of the country. Our opposition has already talked about exporting this to other states if it is successful. I have three nieces, the oldest is five, I don?t want them raised in a school system like the one Measure 9 proposes."
- Roey Thorpe of Ithica, New Tork. Thorpe has been a field organizer with the Empire State Pride Agenda for two years and lobbies New York state legislators and helps build coalitions to pass key legislation. "Campaigns are an important part of building lasting relationships that create vibrant communities to ensure legal rights," Thorpe said. "Measure 9 is supported by organizations like the Christian Coalition and is a crucial bell weather for legislation in every state. For this reason, it is important for people, no matter where they live, to contribute to defeating this measure." Thorpe, who has been a city council
member and acting mayor in Ithaca, will be in Oregon for 11 days. She organized a press conference feautring educators who oppose Measure 9 and also organized phone banks to recruit campaign volunteers.
- Alex Moruta of Houston, Texas. Moruta is the co-founder and executive director of Progressive Voters in Action (PVA), a non-partisan, non-profit organization founded in 1999 that is working to identify 20,000 progressive Houston voters per year to affect legislation and candidacies. Moruta volunteered with Dave Fleischer on the SAVEDade campaign, where he organized 300 volunteers to talk with 5,000 voters. "The experience in Florida was a glimpse at what one-on-one interactions with voters
could do," Moruta said. "I have taken that experience back to Houston and will bring back what I learn in Oregon, which has a much larger infrastructure for this type of work."
- Paul Gestos of New York City. Gestos is a community organizer working on justice issues, including organizing work-fair workers and welfare recipients around economic and racial justice issues to build power within disenfranchised
communities. In January, Gestos was a campaign co-trainer with Fleischer in Portland, Maine and participated in an NGLTF and ESPA training in Westchester County, NY. Gestos said his work in Oregon is an extension of his organizing in New York. "The political right has gone after poor women, people of color, and GLBT people," Gestos said. "This measure is a part of a local and national trend of attacks on GLBT youth, youth of color and poor youth. All youth need safe learning environments.
Measure 9 is an attack on that space."
- Stewart Tart of Toledo, Ohio. Tart works with Gays/Lesbian United in Toledo and was a high school teacher for two years. "This issue strikes home for me," Tart said. "I am struck by the high level of support that we have from several segments of Oregon communities. What I learn here will help us in Ohio to continue to set meaningful priorities and be more equipped when our state faces these battles. I can't imagine creating a school system where people can?t get basic services and information. We cannot sit by and allow policies that harm children to be enacted." Gays/Lesbian United recently conducted a one-year campaign to organize against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and conducts voter registration and letter writing campaigns and candidate forums.
- Janice Bohan of New Hampshire. Bohan, a retired professor, lived in Colorado during the Amendment 2 campaign in 1992 and recently moved to New Hampshire. "Measure 9 is an egregious intrusion into the educational realm," Bohan said. "I can't imagine legislating out such a huge chunk of human experience from education. I learned during Colorado's Amendment 2 that no matter how much I played by the rules as a closeted teacher, secrecy would not protect me from legislated discrimination." Bohan describes her experiences with No On 9 as a "first voyage into campaigns."
- Pete Pinney of Fairbanks, Alaska. Pinney was a coordinator of No On 2, a campaign to defeat Alaska's 1998 anti-gay marriage initiative. Although the initiative passed, Pinney said the networks built for No On 2 remain in place to support statewide activism and safer schools issues. Pinney conducted field work
in Oregon to sharpen his skills in campaign team-building and statewide campaign coordination, experience he will bring back to Alaska's Safe School project. "The issues voters are faced with in Oregon are issues all citizens of this nation are facing," said Pinney. "Measure 9 places restrictions on free speech, promotes intolerance, and limits academic freedom. Doing this would erode a long-standing tradition of hearing all ideas and making informed choices - the basis for a democratic nation." Pinney is active with PFLAG, GLSEN, Pride At Work, and the United Church of Christ.
- Sue Dunlop of San Diego, California. Dunlop is the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in San Diego and Riverside counties. She expects that in the future, California will be facing ballot initiatives challenging access to abortion services and counseling for teens. "In California, ballot initiatives have addressed immigration, labor, the gay community, and youth, and soon abortion will become an issue," Dunlop said. "Each of these initiatives have reopened the basic social justice issues of our time." Dunlop is also the Director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and volunteered on Christine
Kehoe's first campaign for San Diego City Council. Kehoe became San Diego's first openly lesbian elected official.
- Todd McElroy of New Mexico. Last year, McElroy was a steering committee member for the Albuquerque Charter Amendment, a defeated measure that sought to include sexual orientation in the city's human rights laws. "There were tremendous obstacles to overcome when I worked in Albuquerque," McElroy said. "One of the greatest impediments was the need for more community infrastructure. I agreed to volunteer in Oregon to learn more about working with a wide-range of supporters from different communities and to study strategies for community building in New Mexico." McElroy's activism around GLBT issues and politics spans the last 24 years, first as a county coordinator for Jimmy Carter in 1976 when he was 14 years old, and then in 1977 when he came out. McElroy has worked on more than 12 candidate and ballot issue campaigns since 1992 alone. "I went to Oregon
because I believe that real social change can happen at the ballot box," adds McElroy, who has presented workshops on rural organizing at NGLTF's annual Creating Change conference. "I believe in democracy, and I believe in one person's ability to create change."
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement?s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.