Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Equality & Justice Day – “The tools to lobby for equality with confidence”

This year, it’s more important than ever that you join us in Albany on April 28 for Equality & Justice Day, our annual lobby day when we demonstrate the power of our community to our elected officials. We’ve shown you what E&J Day is like, and now we want to tell you – in the words of LGBT New Yorkers and allies who have attended in years past. Below is the first post in our series of E&J stories. Check back with us in the next few weeks for more – and don’t forget to register for E&J Day.

Gary Gilbert, Marriage Ambassador, Queens:

I highly recommend Equality and Justice Day to everybody because it builds up one’s confidence that one can lobby legislators. If one can do it in Albany, one can easily do it in one’s district.

My experience has been very positive. Three years ago, my husband and I visited our totally supportive Assemblymember. We bumped into him as he was stepping out of his office, and he was very happy to see that we had taken the time to visit him in Albany. This Assemblymember was for marriage equality years ago when LGBT activists were promoting domestic partnerships. His position, shocking to some activists at the time, was that if two people are going to commit to each other then they should be married like everybody else.

That first visit to an easy audience helped me to get used to the idea of visiting a politician. I remember I was nervous and kept referring to my sheet of bills we were supposed to talk about. But the Assemblymember was very friendly and reassuring. We spoke for twenty minutes about the issues, and then in the last five minutes the Assemblymember began to engage in small talk, which I had learned was a way for him to signal the visit was over. We walked out of the office with him, and then in the hall he told me about an unrelated bill and why he was voting against it, which allowed me to see that he reads the texts of bills very carefully and votes based on the exact wording. We felt that we had a very good picture of who this person is and how he does his job, which subsequently made it easier to contact him. We also got to visit our supportive State Senator’s office and spoke with a very nice aid.

After our first Equality and Justice Day, we found that we had built up our confidence that we could do district visits. The staff of both offices were very nice to us, and it became normal for us to stop in every now and then to talk. Our showing them that we were the kind of constituents who would travel to Albany to make a point seemed to help build our credibility with them. The second year was more of the same, with us visiting our friendly legislators. I led a group of constituents in a meeting with our Assemblymember, and learned how to be more assertive with the people I led.

Last year, I finally got to visit a State Senator who continues to sit on the fence for marriage equality. I was very nervous with him, but he smiled and treated me like a grandson. He told me he would vote for the Dignity for All Students Act and the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, but not marriage. I asked him why and he said his opposition was religious. I told him that this is civil marriage, and that the bill says that no church would be forced to marry a couple. It became clear from that encounter that his opposition was based on a lack of knowledge -- I had gathered important information that could be used for subsequent visits and lobbying. I had also become more self-confident in speaking with legislators about bills which are important to the LGBT community. Empire State Pride Agenda gave me the training and the tools to be able to go out there and lobby for equality with confidence.

Want to join us in Albany for Equality & Justice Day? Click here for more information or to register.

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