July 27, 2011 at 5:50 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
HRC launches ‘LGBT Equality’ bus tour

bus view

HRC hits the road this summer. (Photo courtesy HRC)

The Human Rights Campaign announced this week that it will launch a nationwide “LGBT Equality” bus tour in August with stops planned for 17 cities in 11 mostly conservative states in the Midwest and South over a 12-week period.

The national LGBT rights group says its aim is to draw attention to the fact that LGBT people lack legal protections in these states in employment, housing and public accommodations.

A lack of legal protection for same-sex relationships, including LGBT families with children, will also be discussed through workshops, forums and other events in the locations where the bus will stop, HRC said.

“We are in the midst of a cultural tipping point on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and our job is to push the scale as far and as fast as we can toward fairness,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The tour will serve as a powerful visibility tool and support the work of creating real and lasting change in these communities.”

Upon announcing the bus tour on July 25, HRC released the results of a nationwide poll it commissioned showing that a majority of Americans nationwide support legal protections for LGBT people, including the legal right to marry.

But the poll also shows that support for LGBT equality is not as strong in certain parts of the country, including the Midwest and South. For example, while the poll shows support for equal marriage rights of gays and lesbians at 51 percent nationwide, it shows that support dropping to 43 percent in the Midwest and South.

The poll was conducted by polling and political consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

It found that 79 percent of its respondents nationwide support non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. The poll found that 79 percent of respondents nationwide believe anti-gay discrimination is a problem and 74 percent believe anti-transgender discrimination is a problem.

In a telephone press briefing on Tuesday, HRC’s director of communications, Fred Sainz, said HRC believes the polling numbers show that most Americans are ahead of their elected officials and the nation’s politicians when it comes to supporting legal protections for LGBT people.

He noted that while the poll shows that voters in the Midwest and South don’t support LGBT equality to the degree shown by voters in the Northeast and West, it shows that support for LGBT legal protections among the people who live in the Midwest and South is considerably higher than that of the politicians elected to represent them in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.

Dave Walker, an official with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner who worked on the poll, echoed Sainz’s assessment of the polling data.

“Even in the most conservative parts of the country, where the majority of people are clearly opposed to marriage equality, there’s a lot of attitudes toward lesbian and gay people that are well ahead of where legislation is,” Walker said. “And there’s a degree of acceptance, which is growing nationally, even if it’s growing unevenly.”

Among the 11 states selected for the bus tour, none has adopted through its state legislature a non-discrimination law based on sexual orientation or gender identity. None of the states has adopted laws recognizing same-sex relationships through marriage, domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Each of the 11 states has adopted, over the past decade, laws or state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

Sainz said HRC hopes to use the equality bus tour to remind otherwise supportive voters in these states that LGBT people lack legal protections that the voters believe should be in place.

A schedule released by HRC shows that the tour kicks off on Aug. 12 in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the bus and HRC participants will stay for three days.

From there, the bus will travel to Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; Lawrence, Kan.; Kansas City, Mo.; New Orleans, La.; Austin and College Station, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; Louisville and Lexington, Ky.; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Ga.; Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla. The tour ends in Orlando on Oct. 30.

“At each tour stop, HRC will work with the local community to hold a variety of events,” according to a statement released by HRC. “The bus will be accompanied by an exhibit offering primers on everyday life topics including: your family, your health, your rights, your community, your faith, your workplace and your story,” the statement says.

“Separate from the bus, HRC will also offer a verity of workshops and educational seminars with particular emphasis on workplace and healthcare equality, schools and bullying issues and religion and faith,” the statement says.

Sainz acknowledged that some of the cities on the tour are more progressive and LGBT-supportive than the state as a whole. But he said nearly all cities on the bus tour are represented at least in part by a Republican that is not likely to be supportive of LGBT equality.

“Nonetheless, the cities were chosen because they are geographic centers with larger media markets so that we could reach as many people as possible with the message of there being a need for equality,” he said.

Sainz didn’t respond to a question asking how much the bus tour project will cost HRC.

“This is obviously an investment in equality that will have tremendous impact going into the future,” he said. “We are headed into areas of the country where it’s still difficult for LGBT people live their lives openly, honestly and without fear of recrimination, so we think that it’s a worthwhile investment to make.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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