Divided loyalties

This weekend is chock full of events for the LGBT community, both here in Philly and, in case you missed it, in Washington, D. C.

In Philadelphia, there’s the Indigo Ball on Friday, Blue Ball all weekend and OutFest on Sunday to mark National Coming Out Day, as well as numerous parties surrounding the annual street festival and block party.

In Washington, D.C., the National March for Equality also takes place on Sunday.

In Philadelphia, the community has been divided over whether to support OutFest or the national march.

Some argue that OutFest is “just” a block party, a time for folks to eat, drink and shop, with perhaps a bit of activism thrown in by signing a petition or two, or maybe getting an HIV test.

Others argue the same about the national march: It’s a time for drinking and partying, that Congress isn’t in session that day anyway. Critics say it was planned under too short of notice and poorly organized.

But what’s really at stake for Pennsylvanians, and for Philadelphians?

The national march is slated as a national call to grassroots action.

Its mission statement is: “Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. We will accept no less and will work until it is achieved. Equality Across America exists to support grassroots organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts to achieve full equality.”

Organizers want to push for federal-level equality in military service, marriage, workplace protections, healthcare, hate-crimes protections and immigration.

However, only two of these issues — immigration and military service — are solely handled at the federal level. The others could be — and are — governed at the state level, with some overlap at the federal level.

That’s not to say there are no pending bills in Congress that would address disparities; legislation has been introduced that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, bar hate crimes, bullying and discrimination based on sexual orientation and provide for immigration equality.

But consider this: Of the four LGBT marches on Washington to date — 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000 — none has resulted in concrete federal-level results. Sure, there have been small victories, and certainly increased visibility. But also backlash. Congress passed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after the 1993 march; the Defense of Marriage Act followed three years later.

In Pennsylvania, the most critical legislation for the LGBT community is statewide employment protections, followed by hate-crimes protections. While marriage equality is a concern, realistically it’s a long way off.

So what’s a Philadelphian to do? Pick one and go. Go and be seen. Go and be heard. Go and sign a petition. Go and shake the hand of a legislator and tell him or her that you, personally, need employment protections and that he or she needs to vote for it. Particularly if he or she wants your vote.