The conference gave attendees the opportunity to learn more about the politics of gender in 2012. Sessions and speeches at the conference discussed the recent attacks on women’s reproductive freedom, the efforts in state legislatures and even Congress to block access to contraception, rights of mothers and caregivers, global feminism, and LGBTQ rights.
Keynote Speaker Eve Ensler gave a rousing presentation in which she discussed a recent performance of her show, The Vagina Monologues, on the Michigan Capitol steps. The June 18 performance was a direct response to the banning of Michigan state Rep. Lisa Brown from speaking in the House for using the word “vagina” during a debate. Ensler believes that this politically-charged performance is merely foreshadowing for a larger movement for women’s rights.
“I just want to say that’s just a little inkling, a little taste, of what is just about to bubble up from the ground,” said Ensler during her speech. “I just felt it in Michigan. I saw where we’re going. I saw the power of women. I saw how quickly that happened—in 48 hours. Five thousand women showed up in Michigan. Everybody got together and was united and was with each other. Every group, every woman, every man just went ‘together we’re doing it’ and that’s what’s possible.”
Though Ensler spoke about feminism in America today, she also discussed global issues pertaining to women’s rights. She discussed female genital mutilation, colonialism and rape in the Congo, and the subsequent uprising of women worldwide.
Ensler is known for establishing V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women that occurs on Valentine’s Day. Ensler’s speech also gave information on how to become involved in the V-Day 2013 event, “One Billion Rising.” One Billion Rising is a global affirmation of female solidarity and a strike to demand an end to violence against women. Ensler is inviting one billion women and those who love them to “walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to this violence.” Learn more at OneBillionRising.org.
During her speech, Ensler explained what the movement for rights should look like:
“When we talk about solidarity, no one gets marginalized or made to feel less important. Those women who have been traditionally invisible—women of color, native women, LGBTQ women—have got to lead the way.”
While the conference focused on the War on Women, there were several sessions and speeches that identified civil rights issues in the LGBTQ community. Ensler indicated that the LGBTQ community must become involved in current civil rights movements. Ensler’s call to action was just one of many at the conference; NOW is working with the LGBTQ community in the fight for equality.
In an interview with Gay Life, NOW President Terry O’Neill explained that people must recognize the importance of the upcoming election in relation to the fight for women’s and LGBTQ rights.
“This election is crucial,” said O’Neill. “We are at a critical time where this country could go one way for a very long time, or we could go the other way for a very long time. Everybody says that it is all about excitement, that the progressives must be excited enough to vote. We are. The progressives are excited and determined. We have to show up [to the polls].”
O’Neill’s message mirrors that of the conference: we must all become active in the fight for our own rights. The upcoming election will play a huge role in human rights for our nation. According to O’Neill, “We have the people on our side, but [the opposition has] the money. That makes it an incredibly close race. We have to have the people out in the streets walking the distance and making the phone calls.”
Even though NOW is focused on women’s rights, the organization is working with the LGBTQ community to secure human rights for LGBTQ individuals.
“It’s not just because of the dignity and the human rights, which I think is fundamental,” O’Neill explained. “There is another aspect to it: economic security. Economic security is a fond wish to the LGBTQ community. Many LGBTQ individuals do not have economic security; they can be fired for no reason.”
While economic security is a very important issue to the LGBTQ community, marriage equality is expected to play a big role in the upcoming election.
Sarah Reece, director of the Academy for Leadership and Action at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, brought the theme of the conference back to the LGBTQ community with a call to action: LGBTQ voters, and the people who care about them, must recognize the importance of the upcoming election.
Several states, including Maryland, will vote on marriage equality this November. While the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is working on a variety of issues, there is a big focus on making sure that voters are informed and prepared to vote to affirm marriage for LGBTQ individuals.
“While rights are important, there is no amount of cobbling together the actual rights that come with marriage as the societal contract that we all engage with,” said Reece in an interview with Gay Life. “I can tell you as a married woman, married to another woman, people treat us differently as a married couple. The day that we got married our commitment to each other was more solidified, and it really was the happiest day in each of our lives. I want that for everyone. Marriage is about a choice; it’s about the freedom to choose to marry the person you love, and that’s what’s at stake on the ballot on Election Day in Maryland.”
Like NOW, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force hopes that concerned citizens will become active in the fight for human rights. There are several ways to get involved in this process, but perhaps the easiest way to become active is to share your own story.
“What we’ve learned is that it is not enough that you know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender; polling shows us that you have to have a conversation about marriage and about why marriage matters… it is awesome that President Obama came out [in support of equal marriage rights]… polls show us that the single best messengers on these marriage campaigns are LGBT people and our families and talking about why marriage matters to us,” said Reece.
Another way to become active is to get involved with Equality Maryland. The Taskforce has been “long and strong” partners with Equality Maryland, and Reece suggests volunteering or donating money to the organization. You can visit Equality Maryland online at EqualityMaryland.org. Reece also suggests visiting QueerTheVote.org to get informed and to get active in one of the Task Force’s campaigns. They even offer a volunteer vacation program for people who do not live in a state with an LGBTQ ballot measure.
Reece explained that people need to “find a way to be active between now and election day to make sure that every Marylander understands that marriage is about love and commitment, and that in January folks begin to get married.”
Join Baltimore NOW!
Baltimore’s newly reinstated NOW chapter is now holding regular meetings at the GLCCB. Agenda items, based in part on the National NOW task list, include supporting the re-election of President Obama, marriage equality, the Equal Rights Amendment, the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, defeating the War on Women and producing the One Billion Rising – Baltimore Event, February 14, 2013.