Georgia Equality raising cash for lobby efforts

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imageGeorgia Equality is in a full-court press to raise $10,000 by Jan. 15 to help fund its lobbying efforts at the Gold Dome, which sees the return of state lawmakers on Monday.

While Georgia Equality already has a lobbyist in place for the upcoming legislative session, funds from Equal-A-Thon will help support the statewide non-profit’s push for legislation addressing bullying in schools and hate crimes. The costs for the legislative session actually top more than $50,000 for staff and other resources, says Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director.

“The $10,000 will help ensure that during the sessions itself that we don’t have to be focused on raising money, but can be focused on passing legislation and fighting attacks,” says Graham (top photo). “That’s why it’s important that people participate in the Equal-A-Thon. Any donation of any amount helps.”

The organization is working hard to raise the cash, including four email solicitations to supporters over the last three weeks. In one, Rabbi Josh Lesser, a board member, says donations to Georgia Equality will help “ensure this next decade is one that advances our quality of life, our rights and safety to live here in Georgia.”

“Having been raised in Georgia, I am proud to call it home—even when others have made it clear that people like me shouldn’t belong,” Lesser writes. “Whether it was the Nazi-themed graffiti and the constant bomb threats at my Jewish school or the hostile environment to gays, the message was clear: Georgia is not your home. When I returned to Atlanta 10 years ago to serve as an openly gay rabbi, I received death threats and hate mail. Always the message was that Georgia was not a place for me to feel welcome. However, as a native Georgian, I know otherwise.”

imageIn another email, Board Chair Gail Cowie explained why she supports the organization.

“The answer is simple: Georgia Equality works statewide and makes a difference statewide,” Cowie writes. “In 2009, 450 people from throughout Georgia attended one of our advocacy trainings or presentations on key policy issues. Building a base of support outside of Atlanta is key to our success. These trainings took place in Athens, Savannah, Macon, Gainesville, Kennesaw and Clayton County.”

“From the state legislature to city councils and county commissions, Georgia Equality is working for protection from bullying and violence; prohibition of employment discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity and expression; advances in HIV prevention; and equal access to social services and medical care,” she adds.

The organization is about half-way to its goal of raising $10,000 and has upped its financial push to offer a new Georgia Equality bumper sticker for donations of $25 or more and a new Georgia Equality grocery tote (photo) for becoming a monthly donor of at least $10.

“The cost of being able to have a strong and consistent presence in the legislative session really depends on our ability to raise money. There are no grants for that. We depend on our members and public support to do that,” Graham says.

imageWhen lawmakers return Monday, they will be joined by two openly gay members for the first time in its history. Rep. Simone Bell (photo right), who took office late last month, will join longtime Rep. Karla Drenner as the General Assembly’s only openly gay members.

The House will also be under new Republican leadership, as a sex scandal that unfolded in the last few weeks prompted Speaker Glenn Richardson to resign. In his place is Blue Ridge Rep. David Ralston. Gay political watchers, including Graham, say it’s too early to tell what the leadership changes may mean to gay and lesbian concerns this session.

“With all of the transitions happening in leadership, it is really likely to take the first few weeks of the session for us to truly have a better understanding of the lay of the land in the legislature on LGBT issues,” Graham says.

Tim Cairl, a board member of Atlanta Stonewall Democrats who worked on Bell’s campaign, expects little to change at the Gold Dome.

image“Regarding LGBT issues, not much is likely to change from previous leadership to the current one,” says Cairl (bottom photo). “We still have a lot of work to do to elect fair-minded representatives to the state House.”

Graham says Georgia Equality’s priorities for the legislative session include bullying and hate crime legislation as well as monitoring cuts to state programs that fund HIV programs.

“Bullying and hate crime legislation are the priorities for the session for us. Those are the priorities for pushing through some proactive legislation. We also will continue to monitor funding of state services, with specific attention to [the AIDS Drug Assistance Program]. We know that there have been some cuts to the program that have been discussed,” Graham says.

ADAP, federally funded but administrative by state health agencies, provides HIV/AIDS medications to low-income people living with HIV who have little or no coverage from private or third-party insurance.

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