New Chairman and Lobbyist, Equality Alabama Looks to Build on 2013’s LGBT Milestones

When state lawmakers return to Montgomery on Jan. 14 for the 2014 legislative session, Equality Alabama is hoping to have a seat at the table and make heard the voices of Alabama’a LGBT community.

“Last year, we worked tirelessly to accomplish our goals and to … expand and energize equality, justice, and fairness,” said Ben Cooper, the Birmingham attorney recently named to serve as EA’s chairman of the board. “2013 clearly showed us that there is no limit to what we can accomplish together with continued support.”

To help accomplish its goals, the organization has hired Jeff Martin to serve as a lobbyist for the upcoming session.

“We felt now was the time to begin conversations with those who shape public policy in Alabama about issues affecting LGBTQ individuals in their everyday lives, such as marriage, family and health care rights. Jeff will give us a voice in Montgomery and help us bring about positive changes for those we serve,” a statement from the organization read.

Martin will focus on two specific pieces of legislation, Cooper said. 

One is a bill by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, that would repeal an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits same sex marriage and another is a bill sponsored by Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, that would allow health care providers to refuse to perform procedures that “violate their conscience.”

“Equality Alabama is particularly concerned about the inclusion of embryonic stem cell research in (Nordgren’s) bill. A great deal of research is being done with HIV and AIDS, and researchers are hopeful that through stem cell research will lead to a “cure” wherein a patient’s infected immune system can be replaced with new cells that cannot be infected,” spokesman Michael Hansen said.

Among the highest priorities for the year, Cooper said, are the passage of non-discrimination ordinances by Alabama cities. An ordinance creating a human rights commission was sent to a Birmingham city council committee in 2013 but no action has been taken.

“We’re working on getting feedback from the council and the city’s legal department so we can craft a plan. We have our eye on other cities across the state this year, but I don’t want to jump the gun on revealing which ones just yet,” Hansen said.

Joining Cooper are four new board members: Gary Bishop, Ashley Jackson, Erle Morring, and Lauren Banks. Other board members are Michael Hansen, Robert Hernandez, Juliann Losey, Steven Romeo, and Fergus Tuohy (past chair).

Other officers are Patrick Scarborough, vice-chair; West Honeycutt, secretary; and Jay Barrett, treasurer.

“We will move Alabama forward this year. We will continue to gain ground towards progress, working together to improve LGBTQ Alabamians everyday lives,” Cooper said.

And while 2013 was a watershed year for the LGBT movement nationally — six states passed marriage equality laws and The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act — Equality Alabama said it was also a great year for the LGBT rights movement in Alabama, too.

The organization recently released a list of memorable events in Alabama’s LGBT movement for the year. Here are some of those:

1. ‘Roll Pride, War Equal T-shirts designed to advance equal rights for LGBTQ Alabamians’

2. ‘Alabama teens petition Legislature to repeal anti-homosexuality language in sex ed law’

3. In Alabama-Mississippi ‘intolerance-off,’ The Daily Show tests reactions to a gay couple, gets surprising reaction

4. ‘Thousands Show Up To Support Marriage Equality’

5. Birmingham City Council committee endorses city-wide human rights commission

6. ‘Magic City Acceptance’: New project seeks to help Alabama’s LGBT youth

7. ‘Birmingham Mayor Bell Comes Out For Equality’

8. ‘College Republican Stands Up For The Freedom To Marry’







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