Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Service Learning: Lobbying for Civil Unions

Monday I completed the first of my service hours at The Center during LGBT Lobby Day, an event sponsored primarily by One Colorado. When I signed up with The Center to attend this event, I had very different expectations of what this day was about. In my mind I was thinking I was going to listen to a few speakers discuss LGBT issues within the community. Afterwards I expected to take a tour of the capitol, watch the senate/house in action and to go home filled with information.

What Lobby Day actually is is so much better. I arrived at the Central Presbyterian Church around 8:00. I signed myself in, stuck a name tag to my shirt, and was ushered over to a pile of folders. The man on the other side of the table greeted me and asked for some of my information. He wrote a couple of things down and then handed me a folder with Representative Duran and Senator Steadman written on the cover.

"These are your politicians to lobby. I see you have the infamous Steadman."

I looked at him confused and disconcerted. I realized that I had no idea who either of these people were, I blushed. I felt ashamed for not doing my homework. I continued through the queue, grabbing a t-shirt before sitting down. I was nervous. I had not realized that "Lobby Day"might include lobbying actual representatives. In retrospect, I should have put two and two together. As I was sitting there feeling very out of place and very ignorant of exactly what was in store, I spotted the head of The Center's legal and advocacy department. I approached her and introduced myself. It felt good to speak to someone I knew. Feeling slightly more confident I returned to my chair and waited for the presentations to start.

In summary the main issues in the LGBT community at the moment are:
Civil Unions SB 172 (More on this to follow)

Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act SB 72
Immigration (Arizona Copycat Laws and ASSET) HB 1107, SB 54,  and SB 126
 -ASSET discusses children of parents without documentation receiving in-state tuition at colleges
Safe Schools/Anti-Bullying
 - Legislation on this issue is currently being written and will include:
  • Enumerated protected classes including race, sexual identities
  • Clear Definition of bullying vs harassment
  • How to change the culture and climate of schools to prevent bullying by providing resources to schools
The main focus of Monday's Lobby Day was on civil unions. Civil unions would provide everyone involved access to adoption rights, medical decision making, inheritance, and health insurance. The law would reinforce freedom of religion, not just for non christian citizens, but also those who wish to be unionized in a christian service as some churches already wish to do.

It is estimated that within the first few years, 3500 same sex couples and 2500 different sex couples would get a civil union in Colorado. Through sales tax and Medicaid savings, this is estimated to save Colorado $5,000,000. In a recent poll, 72% of Coloradans supported the bill.

With this information in mind, we were then told about how to talk to our elected officials to lobby this bill. The language that changes hearts and minds usually comes from a personal story. It is important to humanize an issue. Finding common ground and unifying themes can also be extremely effective. Words like fairness, commitment, responsibility, those were key words we were advised to use to get our point across. One example lobbying statement we were given was:

"Gay and lesbian couples in Colorado are doing the hard work of building strong families, but these committed couples lack the critical legal protection they need to take care of and be responsible for one another."

The communications director of One Colorado outlined a three step process for speaking with our officials.

My statement looked like this:
"As a straight ally to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans community (we were asked to not use the LGBT acronym for the sake of clarity,) I believe that civil unions are an important step in creating adequate legal protection in order for committed couples to be able to take care of and be responsible for each other. In fact, about 72% of Coloradans agree with me. therefore as your constituent, I am asking you to vote to pass the Civil Unions Bill."

After being prepared for what was to come we were asked to group us with people who had our same officials. My anxiety had dissipated and was replaced with excitement. I had considered disappearing after the info session, but I knew I needed to do this. Lobbying is important, I needed to stick it out and give it a try even though it was very much outside of my comfort zone. I stopped by the gender neutral restroom and pulled on my new t-shirt to increase my sense of solidarity. 

The words on the front read: "One Love, One Dream: Equality". 

 The men in my group were extremely encouraging. We planned our scripts together and then marched on towards the capitol building. I learned that the infamous Steadman, was one of four out LGBT officials in Colorado. My nerves were further soothed. 

While this day was hardly what I expected it to be, I am fantastically pleased to be proven wrong. I am excited about my continued service with The Center.  I entered into service with the Center expecting a fair bit of desk work, and perhaps a research element. I was thinking that maybe I would get to staff the phones or greet people as they came in. Though some of these things might be a part of my future work with The Center, I hope to see more of my expectations challenged in unexpected ways.

Links of interest:
The Center:
One Colorado:
For a review of Lobby Day:

No comments:

Post a Comment