Louisiana GLBTs coordinate statewide push for equality

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KNOXVILLE – Coordinating a statewide effort to advocate for the GLBT community is difficult. Many of us can attest to that.

Stephen Handwerk of Louisiana’s League for Equality outlines the steps leading to an effective statewide attempt to meet the challenges ahead.

He describes their recent historic meeting in which groups from across the state met to plan strategy for promoting equality.

“We had to overcome histories and egos in order to build a cohesive team and move forward to meet common goals,” states Handwerk.

While he admits the groups did not always agree on the modalities involved, they all saw eye-to-eye regarding the destination.

Touted as key to the success of this endeavor was the lack of formal agreements and by-laws. Forming an ad hoc group that focuses on goals freed the participants to go on to the real work of strategy and task definition.

The defining of specific agreed upon tasks and the assignment of those tasks to specific groups is heralded as one of the factors that spell success for the Louisiana GLBT community.

“We need to stop reinventing the wheel,” states Handwerk.

He points to a statewide ad campaign and a strict emphasis on consensus as key components of building a successful statewide organization.

To the delight of many in the GLBT community, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) issued an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation throughout state government. The League for Equality is now pushing this governmental employment non-discrimination policy as potential legislation, which would make it law for the entire state.

“We will advocate for things like the Safe Schools Act and a private sector ENDA as suggested by the Task Force (formerly the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.) The addition of gender identity language is a future goal,” noted Handwerk.

Mr. Handwerk is also active in the online group US Democratic Network (USDN), and he is a moderator for the Louisiana group. USDN initially formed during the Bush-Kerry 2004 campaign and has since gone on to address other issues of concern to progressive Democrats. Their goal is to address the needs of all Democrats including the disabled, African Americans, disabled veterans, the GLBT community, and other populations that are often ignored in party politics.

They hope that by integrating Democratic partisans in core groups organized around the issues important to these minority groups, they will be able to build more cohesive coalitions.

After serving as the GLBT steering committee chair for the Louisiana Kerry campaign, Handwerk was invited to the first GLBT post-election debriefing offered by the Democratic National Committee. As a representative of one of the 26 battleground states, he was able to integrate the information gained from the Louisiana operation into the context of the larger national picture.

“Whether it seems like it or not, the right wing is losing ground,” asserts Handwerk. “We must see our successes even as we focus on the work that still needs to be done."