Many national organizations advocate for and lead the LGBT community in civic action — one of which is the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT Civil Rights organization. The group has over 1 million members and supporters nationally, according to HRC Director of Communications Michael Cole-Schwartz.
The HRC lobbies congressional leaders and politicians to support LGBT equality laws. Currently the HRC is working to generate support in Maryland for Question 6 — a ballot referendum on the state’s new same-sex marriage law that grants civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but gives religious institutions the right to opt out of performing ceremonies they feel don’t conform to their beliefs.
Cole-Schwartz says that the LGBT movement can “draw strengths and examples from the Civil Rights fights that have come before us.” He says, “While they’re distinct in many ways — there’s no comparison between a history of [African-American] oppression — [the two] communities come from the same place of wanting to be respected and treated with equality and dignity.”
The Black Civil Rights era of the 1950s and ’60s organized marches, boycotts, sit-ins while pressing for legislative changes to advance its case for equality. In their fight for marriage equality the HRC uses volunteerism, grassroots campaigns and lobbying of politicians.
Cole-Schwartz notes that local organizing and federal law reform are strategies employed during the Black Civil Rights era and in the LGBT rights movement.
“In Maryland, for example, on the marriage campaign it’s important to get the support of organized labor in the state, the state chapter of the NAACP and other folks who are interested in this issue and then start to build a campaign surrounding them,” he said.
Cole-Schwartz said the HRC, in order to answer religious opposition, has worked with religious leaders who believe in marriage equality. On Sept. 21, the group held a conference where Rev. Delman Coates, Rev. Al Sharpton and others urged Maryland residents to vote for the bill in November.