As Victories Mount Elsewhere, HRC Unveils Unprecedented Effort to Bring Equality to Arkansas

by Charles Joughin

Human Rights Campaign committing $8.5 million to permanent campaigns in Arkansas as well as Mississippi and Alabama

 WASHINGTON – Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced Project One America (POA), a comprehensive campaign to dramatically expand LGBT equality in the South through permanent campaigns in Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. This substantial and lasting initiative—with a three year budget of $8.5 million and a dedicated staff of 20—is the largest coordinated campaign for LGBT equality in the history of the South.

“Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas—one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship. Project One America is an unparalleled effort to close that gap, and it opens up a bold, new chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement of this generation. In this grand struggle for equality, we can’t write off anyone, anywhere,” said HRC President and Arkansas native Chad Griffin.

Project One America is the very first campaign of its kind to work exclusively on LGBT equality in Arkansas—where there are no non-discrimination protections for LGBT people at the state or local level in employment, housing or public accommodations, and where the state’s constitution expressly prohibits marriage equality.

“As a former openly gay legislator, I have seen first-hand how hearts and minds change when people realize that LGBT folks are their friends and neighbors and family members,” said former Arkansas state Rep. Kathy Webb. “HRC's investment in our state will be critical to advance equality and opportunity for LGBT Arkansans.”

“Despite the legal landscape, it’s long past time that the country stopped treating the Arkansas like the ‘finish line’ for equality. HRC has more than 21,000 members and supporters in Arkansas, and there are countless more fair-mined people ready to stand on the right side of history,” Griffin said.

Griffin will be visiting Arkansas on Monday, May 5th as part of a three-state tour of press and public events to kick off Project One America.

"As a person of deep faith, it is my moral obligation to treat others with the respect we desire for ourselves and to pursue justice by preventing further harm from coming to those most marginalized by our society,” said Rev. Leroy James, a member of the African American Ministerial Alliance. “We are making progress in our communities and I look forward to working with HRC and fair-minded residents across our state to fully realize the American dream for LGBT people in Arkansas."

HRC will focus on making progress on three fronts—changing hearts and minds, advancing enduring legal protections, and building more inclusive institutions for LGBT people from the church pew to the workplace. HRC Arkansas will be anchored by full-time local staff and dedicated in-state office space to guarantee a round-the-clock effort.

The effort will be led nationally by Brad Clark, a long-time LGBT advocate with a consistent record of success at statewide LGBT equality organizations in Iowa and Colorado. Its deputy director will be Karin Quimby, a veteran of HRC’s Field work in the South. 

“HRC has been the largest national LGBT organizer in the South for decades, but LGBT people in these three states have told us in deeply personal terms that they want us to do more in their front yard,” Clark said. “The opportunities for progress couldn’t be clearer, and the need couldn’t be greater. Arkansas has one of the single highest rates of gay and lesbian couples raising children of any state in the country, for instance, but these parents are making do without essential legal protections or inclusion in their community.” 

In addition to the record levels of LGBT parenting (which are drawn from a 2010 Census analysis by the Williams Institute), HRC found both real need and profound opportunity for progress in a recently-completed survey conducted for HRC by Anzalone Liszt Grove—the largest survey of its kind on the needs, experiences and priorities of LGBT people in the South.

Findings include:

·       In Arkansas, nearly 65 percent of LGBT people report suffering verbal abuse.

·       Sixteen percent report experiencing physical violence because of their identity.

·       A quarter report experiencing discrimination in employment or public accommodation.

·       And one in four LGBT parents raising children in these states are total legal strangers to the children they raise.

HRC Arkansas’ nine launch goals are:

  1. Empower LGBT people (and straight allies) to come out.
  2. Raise the visibility of LGBT people and issues with the general public.
  3. Create safer environments for LGBT young people.
  4. Build partnerships with faith communities, communities of color, business communities, and conservatives.
  5. Create a more inclusive workplace for LGBT people
  6. Build support for enduring legal protections that ensure LGBT equality.
  7. Expand participation in HRC’s Municipal Equality Index in these three states.
  8. Create a more inclusive healthcare environment for LGBT people
  9. Equip LGBT people and non-traditional allies as spokespeople.

A complete resource on Project One America’s vision and motivating research is available here.

HRC will continue being the single largest national LGBT organizer in the South, with a decades-long track record of political and field campaigns and grassroots education efforts. One-third (500,000) of our 1.5 million members and supporters call the South their home and HRC is present at more than 50 LGBT pride events across the South each year.

HRC’s field team is working across the South supporting legislative and electoral initiatives with direct grants to local and state groups and campaigns, funding for research and lobbying, as well as staff resources – including three full time employees dedicated to the South, and five other full time employees that spend a large portion of their time working in the region. Furthermore, the HRC Foundation’s public education and outreach programs – including nationally recognized benchmark ratings like the Corporate Equality Index, Healthcare Equality Index and Municipal Equality Index – are present across the South helping to transform the institutions that affect the daily lives of LGBT people.

“Project One America is the perfect complement to HRC’s existing political and field campaigns and grassroots education efforts—as well as our decades-old volunteer communities across the South,” said Griffin. “That said, we’re not undertaking this work because it will lead to quick, easy or sweeping victories. We’re doing it because it is difficult. Folks in these three states shouldn’t have to wait a single day longer for one, fully equal, America.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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