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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 2 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 18
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announces Deep South campaign - 'Project One America' to work on LGBT equality in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas.
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Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announces Deep South campaign - 'Project One America' to work on LGBT equality in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas.

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has announced a new three-year campaign to promote LGBT equality and push for new legal protections in three Deep South states: Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

'This substantial and lasting initiative - with a three-year budget of $8.5 million and a dedicated staff of 20 - is the largest coordinated campaign for LGBT equality in the history of the South,' the group said in an April 26 announcement.

Called 'Project One America,' the initiative will be the first campaign to work exclusively on LGBT equality in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, where there are no non-discrimination protections for LGBT people at the state or local level in employment, housing or public accommodations, and where each state's constitution expressly prohibits marriage equality.

'Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas - one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship,' HRC President and Arkansas native Chad Griffin said.

'Project One America is an unparalleled effort to close that gap, and it opens up a bold, new chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement of this generation. In this grand struggle for equality, we can't write off anyone, anywhere.

'Despite the legal landscape, it's long past time that the country stopped treating the South like the 'finish line' for equality. HRC has more than 57,000 members and supporters in these states, and there are millions more fair-mined people ready to stand on the right side of history.'

While the three target states have no legal protections for LGBT residents, surveys have shown the states have roughly the same percentage of Gay residents as other states, Griffin added.

HRC plans to open offices in each state and staff them primarily with local residents.

While ambitious, HRC's campaign is not intended to be aggressive. Campaign workers will meet in 'front porch' settings with friends, allies, neighbors, business executives, faith leaders, and community groups in an attempt to increase acceptance of LGBT people.

The aim is to change hearts and minds so that people hiding their sexual orientation will be more comfortable about coming out publicly, HRC said. As that occurs, organizers believe, municipalities and states will be more likely to adopt anti-discrimination laws.

'You overcome all of the objections by having conversations and getting to know your neighbors,' Griffin told The Associated Press.

HRC said it hoped to accelerate change that already has included four Mississippi towns passing non-binding resolutions against LGBT discrimination. In Alabama, a civil rights museum is currently showing a photo exhibit of LGBT youth aimed at promoting acceptance.

'The pace of progress really has been fast, but you can't leave anyone behind,' said Griffin.

The director of the Mississippi-based William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, Susan Glisson, said she believed the campaign can succeed in promoting more acceptance of the LGBT community in the Deep South, something she thought nearly impossible only a few years ago.

'I think there is a gentleness that needs to be considered because these are conversations that play out in families,' said Glisson. 'We are still the Bible Belt.'

Joce Pritchett, a Mississippi engineer who married her partner, Carla Webb, in Maine last year, said a quiet campaign relying on interpersonal relationships would likely work better than in-your-face demonstrations like those employed during the civil rights era of the '60s across the South.

Straight Mississippians seem more willing than ever to support equality across the spectrum of sexual orientation, she said.

'I think public acceptance already is building. I've seen tremendous change in the last two years,' said Pritchett, 46, of Jackson, Mississippi. 'I think that what's changing things is that people see we're from here and that we want to live at home in Mississippi.'

The Rev. Joe Godfrey, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention in Alabama, said he hoped churches would be loving and compassionate toward workers in such a campaign, but also firm in the denomination's position that the Bible allows only opposite-sex relationships.

For more information on this new HRC initiative and how you can support it, visit www.hrc.org.

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Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announces Deep South campaign - 'Project One America' to work on LGBT equality in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas.
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