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Yes You Can: Using the Web for LGBT Equality

Matt Coles,
Former Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Equality
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May 13, 2008

In 1977, I was one of about seven people meeting in a mostly abandoned building in San Francisco. We were planning to start a new political club, a political club that would have something no SF club had ever had before: the word ‘gay’ in its name.

Part way through the meeting, somebody asked why there was no law in San Francisco making it illegal to discriminate against gay people. I was the closest thing we had to a lawyer-I was a third year law student-so I got the job of figuring out if we could pass one.

I wrote to every city in the country that had a law (not such a big postage bill). I read them all and started writing up our own. When we had a draft, I took it to the office where I worked part-time to make it look professional by using an electric typewriter. Later, a bunch of us took the typed-up draft to another office to use the thermofax machine to make copies (Kinko’s hadn’t been invented yet). Then we sent copies to every person who was running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, asking if they’d support it. And we were off on a wild ride.

Nobody had told us that you couldn’t pass a civil rights law in a major city without an organization with mailing lists, paid staff, direct mail, professional lobbyists and political consultants. And since nobody told us we couldn’t do it, we did it. The law was signed in March 1978, just about a year after we started.

You might think, well, that was the olden days. Once upon a time, maybe, you could do things like that. But times have changed. Today you need professionals.

You might think that, but you’d be wrong. Last year, four people sitting around on New Year’s day decided that since their little town was a big ‘wedding destination,’ gay folks ought to be able to get hitched there too. They had a little — but just a little — help from the ACLU. And today, the South has its first domestic partnership registry in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

We’ve distilled the help we gave the folks in Eureka Springs — and a few other things — into a complete online guide, called Get Busy, Get Equal. You should take a look at it.

Passing local domestic partnership and non-discrimination laws, or getting your employer to adopt LGBT-friendly policies, is important for two reasons. First, we’ll get state and federal laws passed a lot sooner if we pass local laws and business policies. Local laws tell politicians that the public is ready — and that they won’t lose their jobs if they support us.

Second, proposals for local laws get people talking, and when people talk to LGBT people about our lives, they start to change the way they think. No matter how many great court decisions we have, no matter how many great laws we get passed, to bring an end to discrimination, we need to get people to accept our right to live our lives as equal citizens.

I don’t care where you live or who you work for; you have some connection to a place or a company which could use a nondiscrimination policy or domestic partnership system. And if you live in America, you are definitely connected to a place where we need to have more conversation about fairness and equality for LGBT people.

So if you really care about making LGBT equality real as soon as we can, you need to get to work. Get busy. Get equal.

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