CHARLOTTE, N.C. — More than 200 LGBT activists and state-based advocacy leaders from across the U.S. have gathered in the Queen City this weekend for the Equality Federation’s annual summer meeting.
The national coalition’s meeting brings together state-based and national LGBT advocacy groups and provides an opportunity to brainstorm, network and strategize as the LGBT movement shifts focus from marriage to other important non-discrimination issues, said organizers.
“Right now, we’re still celebrating the marriage decision and that’s fantastic, but there are still 31 states that don’t have comprehensive non-discrimination protections,” Equality Federation Executive Director Rebecca Isaacs told qnotes as she welcomed visitors at an opening reception on Wednesday. “The important thing is to take all that momentum from marriage and continue the work. Not only do we have to enforce the marriage laws — there are places holding out in various ways, including the magistrate bill in North Carolina, for example. There’s that work to be done, but also building a movement for full non-discrimination protections. Until we have fully equality in marriage and housing and everywhere else, we won’t truly be equal.”
Movement toward fully comprehensive non-discrimination protections was a highlight of the conference on Thursday. The Equality Federation convened a press conference with Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro and representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and National Transgender Law Center to endorse yesterday’s landmark Equality Act, introduced to Congress on Thursday as the most comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill the movement’s ever seen.
The new federal legislation has more than 100 co-sponsors in the U.S. House and more than a third of senators have signed on. But passing the new legislation will likely remain an uphill battle. Until comprehensive federal legislation is passed, state leaders plan on continuing their local focus.
Equality NC’s Sgro said Wednesday that his group will be using the conference to gain insight from other state groups’ movements toward local and state non-discrimination laws — and how those lessons might positively shape Charlotte’s effort to rehear LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances voted down in March.
“In this post marriage moment, I’m looking forward to harnessing the energy of all our national and other state partners to focus on Charlotte and have conversations about what’s next for the movement,” Sgro said. “Particularly, how that pertains to the ordinance work we still have left to do here and how we can be successful in actually gaining those protections the next time we go before City Council.”
That local work is at the crux of the Equality Federation’s purpose.
“The Equality Federation has always believed that the work of the states is extremely important,” said Isaacs. “That’s why we came together.”
Fran Hutchins, the Federation’s director of training and organizational development, said the summer meeting is the perfect time for state groups to share their experiences and assist work in other states.
“It’s a great opportunity for the folks doing work on the ground all across the country to come together to share best practices, share their stories, share what’s working for them,” she said.
The conference runs through Sunday. Locals are excited to have the opportunity in their hometown.
“It’s super cool. It’s my first Equality Federation convention,” said Crystal Richardson, Equality NC’s Charlotte-based director of advocacy. “I’m excited everyone is in my city. Growing up here, I’m very proud of Charlotte and this is something that shows how diverse we are and how open and affirming Charlotteans can be.”
While conference attendees are in town, Equality NC staffers plan on showing the visitors the best the Queen City has to offer.
“I’m hoping they take away some good southern hospitality,” Sgro said. “I think a lot of folks don’t have a great mental template for Charlotte. I want to make sure they get out of Uptown and see a little bit of the character of the city. I think Charlotte is tremendously underrated for visitors and can put on a good show, so I want to make sure that they see the outdoor space, taste Restaurant Week and get to hang out in what’s really become a world class city.”
In addition to conference training and work sessions, being hosted at Uptown’s Westin, conference attendees will attend several other events. On Thursday, attendees took an outing to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. A local brewery tour was also on the schedule. On Friday evening, they’ll meet and greet with locals at a Takeover Friday social mixer event hosted at The Westin.
The conference opened Wednesday with a welcoming reception hosted at the Foundation For The Carolinas. Several local LGBT leaders and civic leaders were present, including elected officials and politicians like Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, openly lesbian Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, Councilmember Vi Lyles and Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock.