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Equality Federation issues report: What’s next?

By Fran Hutchins

In the next few years, we have the real possibility of winning the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in every state in the country. Few thought we would reach this moment so quickly, but it’s almost here. As it approaches, our movement is wrestling with a key question: What’s next?

editorial_franHutchinsEquality Federation— the strategic partner to state-based organizations advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people — has worked on the ground in nearly all of the states that have won marriage so far. And in each state where we’ve worked, we’ve learned an important lesson: achieving marriage does not end discrimination or injustice against LGBTQ people. Wedding bells do not signal that our work is finished.

As important a milestone as it is, marriage equality will not keep LGBTQ young people in their homes and loved by their families. It will not keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system. It will not ensure transgender people access to accurate identity documents or critical health care services. It will not make our streets and our communities safe and free from violence. It will not make our military, our prisons, or our immigration system inclusive and just.

And yet marriage has been an important framing issue for our movement for the past decade. Entire organizations and campaigns have been created to address this critical issue. Millions of dollars from millions of donors have been poured into winning. As a movement, we’ve learned how to strategize, organize and win.

Now, we must take what we can from that work and keep going. In our experience on the ground, we have come to understand marriage as just one milestone on a much longer journey to full LGBTQ liberation. And although marriage is not the endpoint of our work, it is a milestone that provides the opportunity and the necessity for reflection, assessment, and planning.

What does it look like to do LGBTQ advocacy work beyond the marriage milestone?

In short, post-marriage work is about achieving lived equality. It’s about making sure that the lives of all of our community members are not only framed by legal equality but also rooted in safety and opportunity. It’s about working the intersections of the oppression that separates us from the freedom we so long to win. It’s about addressing the needs and advancement of the most vulnerable among us, measuring our success in the lived experiences of our people.

In this report, we consider what’s next for states that have secured the freedom to marry — states that had been working for years to win, that grew and expanded in order to get the work done, that achieved victory and realized they had completed all or most of their initial policy goals. In the report, we ask and answer: How can organizations make the shift to focusing on lived equality?

Over the past year, Equality Federation has been working with these states that are beyond the marriage milestone. We have been collaborating with organizations like Equality Maine, Garden State Equality, OutFront Minnesota, Equality Maryland, Equality Hawaii, and Equality New Mexico as they engaged in a process to determine their organizations’ futures and the futures of the movement in their states.

In addition to partnering with these organizations, we interviewed key movement leaders who were deeply engaged in state work beyond the marriage milestone or who had been involved in charting the post-marriage future.

Through these partnerships and conversations, we came to deeply understand the challenges facing states that have achieved the marriage milestone:

  • State leaders don’t have a single, tested model for what post-marriage work looks like. So far, most states that have achieved marriage have also secured nondiscrimination protections, safe schools policies and beyond. What work remains to be done, and how do we get it done, after we’ve achieved marriage?
  • No coordinated funding effort has emerged to support organizations working beyond the marriage milestone. Like state leaders, funders are still wrestling with the question of “what’s next?” in states that have secured a host of legal protections for LGBTQ people.
  • Major donor and grassroots funding is more difficult without a galvanizing issue like marriage. How do we engage individual donors at every level in supporting the work that remains to be done after marriage?
  • State organizations must learn new ways to partner and collaborate as post-marriage work is increasingly understood as intersectional in nature, responding to the needs of those who live at the intersections of class, race, immigration status and beyond.

Given everything we’ve learned over the past year about the work and the future of organizations beyond the marriage milestone, we know one thing to be true: now is the time.

Now is the moment for statewide LGBTQ advocacy groups to plan for their work beyond marriage. From groups that are on the brink of winning to groups that will only achieve marriage as part of a federal mandate, our movement organizations must begin to grapple with big questions, have intentional conversations, both internal and external, and begin communicating with constituents about what’s next.

We recommend that organizations undertake a robust planning process that involves the board, staff and community. We recommend that each organization carefully consider the landscapes — political, social, cultural — in which they operate and work to develop and message an organizational identity that responds to everything that’s at stake. We recommend that organizations begin to adapt now for a new political reality and an uncertain funding future.

At Equality Federation, we believe that LGBTQ political power can be effectively developed, held and mobilized at a statewide level. We believe that healthy LGBTQ advocacy groups in each state make for a strong nationwide movement. We believe a strong state-based and national movement is critical to winning lasting equality — including but not limited to marriage.

If we want a strong movement the ensures lasting equality, we need strong LGBTQ organizations that keep working and thriving after winning marriage. Let’s use this historic moment as an opportunity to refocus the discussion on lived equality and true freedom for everyone in our community.

See the full report at the Equality Federation website.

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