Last Thursday night, Empire State Pride Agenda held its annual dinner in New York City. As more than 1,000 people packed the Midtown ballroom to celebrate an impressive several years of accomplishments, I couldn't help but think that the movement for full LGBT equality is shifting more and more away from Washington and towards activist state organizations.
ESPA’s video highlights and a rousing speech by Executive Director Alan Van Capelle simply blew me away. Working with Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell and Sean Maloney in Governor Spitzer's office, ESPA achieved the impossible by rallying surprisingly strong support for a marriage equality bill in the New York State Assembly. Almost every political pro in the state told them they could not win a vote in the Assembly. They did win, though, and then some. Meanwhile, ESPA is separately managing massive outreach programs to faith-based organizations, unions and corporate leaders. I was in awe as I listened to their record of accomplishments.
Christine Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council, introduced the head of the United Federation of Teachers. As Christine spoke, I realized that this poised and powerful woman stands a very good chance of being the next Mayor of New York, in part because she is the best qualified candidate and in part because of the amazing grassroots work of ESPA.
Working with Alan on the board are people like Frank Selvaggi, Will Trinkle and Alfredo Paredes, who are matched by an astounding professional staff whose passion and commitment to the cause inspires all. The parade of victories unveiled before the animated and inspired audience made clear how much activity is occurring at the state level – and how little our community really knows about its local advocates.
Massachusetts Equality, for example, not only achieved marriage equality through the courts, but persistently protected it by rallying a besieged state legislature and organizing for all those who supported us facing reelection challenges. California Equality assembled broad support for marriage equality, achieving majorities in both houses of their legislature – a notable achievement even though Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. Arizona defeated an anti-marriage amendment and conservative South Dakota came within a couple of points of doing the same thing. The action is happening at the state level. It is where new young progressive leaders are emerging in our communities and where they are running for office. These state organizations are the catalysts for change today, and they are providing visionary and uncompromising leadership.
To give you an idea of the type of accomplishments being made by statewide organizations all over the country, please take a few minutes and listen to ESPA's dynamic and powerful leader Alan Van Capelle speech from the organizations annual dinner. It is an inspiring and hopeful testimonial of what is possible for our community.