September 9, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Marriage advocate to speak out for LGBT workers
Evan Wolfson

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson is set to speak at Freedom to Work’s “Situation Room” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A longtime LGBT advocate at the forefront of the movement to advance marriage equality may take a slightly different tune on Thursday when he’s set to speak out on ways to advance LGBT workplace non-discrimination protections.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, is scheduled to be among the speakers at Freedom to Work’s premier “Situation Room” in New York City at New York Law School — the first in a series of public forums to strategize on the way forward for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Wolfson told the Washington Blade he envisions that his participation will facilitate a discussion on the ways successes from the marriage equality movement can be applied to ENDA.

“It’s going to really be more of a conversation about what are some of the lessons that we applied from history and from other movements in the shaping our strategy and campaign to bring the freedom to marry to the United States, and how can we apply some of those in the work to end employment discrimination,” Wolfson said.

The cross-pollination of the marriage equality strategy to other movements isn’t new for Wolfson, who said he’s been asked by other campaigns — ranging from the environment to voting rights efforts — to talk about the ways in which marriage equality achievements can be applied to these initiatives.

Although he’s credited with being a founder of the marriage equality movement, Wolfson is no stranger to advocating on behalf of other LGBT causes. In 2000, he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that a New Jersey law prohibiting the Boy Scouts of America from banning gay scouts was constitutional. The court ultimately ruled the other way.

Other LGBT causes in which Wolfson said he’s been involved are employment cases, work to abolish state sodomy laws as well as protections for people with HIV/AIDS.

“In all my years working in our movement, I’ve never really been a fan of pitting one so-called issue against the other,” Wolfson said. “To my mind, marriage has never been just about marriage. Marriage has been a powerful vocabulary of helping people understand who we are as LGBT people and to tap into their values of fairness and respect and help them move.”

After talking on this initial panel, Wolfson said he’ll speak out to aid LGBT workplace non-discrimination efforts “where it can be appropriate and helpful,” but added he has no immediate plans to do so.

“Obviously, my primary mission right now is continue leading the campaign to win the freedom to marry, and I want to finish the job, and we are not done,” Wolfson said.

Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida first announced the “Situation Room” in July as a way for groups working on federal workplace non-discrimination protections to lay out their contributions to the effort.

Wolfson is set to speak on a second panel as part of the “Situation Room” alongside Almeida in a session titled, “Lessons from Freedom to Marry for the Campaign to Win the Freedom to Work,” according to a statement from Freedom to Work.

Another panel earlier in the day is set to consist of Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as two LGBT advocates representing both major political parties: Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans; and Melissa Sklarz, president of Stonewall Democrats of New York City.

In a statement, Almeida billed the “Situation Room” as a bipartisan event said it would help lead to victory for ENDA on the Senate floor, where a vote is expected to take place later this year.

“We’re honored to host a bipartisan group of leading experts and advocates for this first of a kind ENDA event,” Almeida said. “I’m confident we’re going to win a big Senate victory this year, and then ride that momentum into a robust campaign in the House of Representatives.”

The program, which is scheduled to begin Thursday at 2 pm, is set to be webcast live at the LGBT blog Towleroad.com. Moderating the first panel will be Towelroad legal editor and New York Law School professor Ari Ezra Waldman of New York Law School.

Almeida declined to comment on who’s set to moderate the second panel with Wolfson, but added additional speakers will be named later in the week.

A second ENDA “Situation Room” is planned later for Miami, which Almeida said will include Spanish-language content for Latino voters. Depending the timing of the ENDA Senate vote, similar events may place in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

“Given where the undecided senators reside in states like Arizona, Nevada, and Florida, we believe Latino voters are a critical part of any winning ENDA coalition,” Almeida concluded.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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