LGBT communities around the state have celebrated Freedom to Marry Week, in honor of Feb. 12 — National Freedom to Marry Day — with varied activities throughout the years but, in 2011, decided to broaden the rights on the agenda.
This year the event, held Feb. 5-14, will be known as Freedom Week, a title that organizer Bolton Winpenny said more aptly describes the goals of LGBT Pennsylvanians.
“Our primary objective is to raise awareness and education about the plight of the LGBT community, so instead of focusing only on marriage, we wanted to have a more general approach,” Winpenny explained. “We wanted to incorporate efforts of organizations throughout the state that work on LGBT equality because the underlying principle of marriage equality is basic LGBT equality. It’s that we should be treating all citizens the same: That principle yields marriage equality, and that principle also yields the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to our existing nondiscrimination law.”
Although the week will recognize the other LGBT equality fights beyond marriage, it’s also the most apt time for the introduction of a pair of bills that seek relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
At a press conference Feb. 14 at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.) and Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.) will announce the introduction of marriage-equality and civil-union bills, respectively.
Both lawmakers introduced the measures in the last legislative session, marking the first time that such bills ever surfaced in the state body.
In the days leading up to the conference, events will be held in all four corners of the state to mobilize LGBTs on marriage equality and a series of other initiatives, an effort Winpenny said was this year aided by the broadening of the coalition supporting the week’s activities.
“This year we’ve done a lot more cross-promotion with organizations that have been doing their own events for years,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get more and more organizations together and involved to reach further and get all of our messages out there together.”
John DeBartola, president of the Keystone Alliance/Gaylife Newsletter, headquartered in Johnstown, said his organization was eager to lend its support to the week.
The group will stage a drag show Feb. 11 at Lucille’s in Johnstown, as well as one at Escapade in Altoona the following night, and a screening of “Out in the Silence” in the Altoona-Johnstown area Feb. 13. The organization hosted a similar drag show Jan. 22 following the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit, during which it collected signatures for a petition that calls for numerous LGBT-rights measures, a practice it will continue at next month’s events.
DeBartola said the slate of events during Freedom Week should help to generate awareness among community members about the need to lobby not only for the legislation, but also for their lawmakers to take an official position on LGBT-rights issues.
“We’re asking people to put pressure on their elected representatives to take a stand so we know where they fall on these issues. We’re asking for honesty and straightforwardness and for our elected officials to quit standing on the sidelines,” he said.
With the state now in Republican control, Winpenny said it was especially significant that the Pennsylvania Log Cabin Republicans were interested in supporting the initiative, sponsoring a “Meet Your Legislator” event Feb. 14 as well as a membership drive Feb. 5 in Harrisburg.
The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania and the Metropolitan Community Church of the Spirit will host an interfaith breakfast at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 in Harrisburg, and the William Way LGBT Community Center will organize a similar event at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 11 at 1315 Spruce St.
LGBTs from around the state are expected to converge on Harrisburg on Valentine’s Day to take part in the annual marriage-equality rally, held 4-6 p.m. at Front and Walnut streets, in front of the Dauphin County Courthouse.
For more information and the full list of events, visit www.lgbtfreedomweekpa.org.