Nearly 1,000 registered to participate in LGBT lobby day in Austin on Monday
More than 900 people have already registered to participate Monday, March 20, in All In for Advocacy, a lobby day being sponsored by Equality Texas, in partnership with the ACLU of Texas, Texas Freedom Network, Human Rights Campaign and the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
“We will be having our largest advocacy day ever,” Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith said this week, noting that registration for the event had to be cut off about midweek because so many people had already registered.
“We have between 900 and 1,000 people already registered, and that’s more than double the attendance in any recent years,” Smith said. “There are buses coming from Dallas and Plano and Houston and San Antonio and Brownsville. We will have people here from all parts of the state.”
Individuals are required to have registered to get a seat on the chartered buses and to participate in Equality Texas’ Advocacy Day events. Smith said, though, that someone who didn’t get signed up before registration was closed should check the Advocacy Day links on the Equality Texas website anyway to see if “there’s a way we can work them in.”
And, he added, you don’t have to be registered with the Advocacy Day events to lobby your elected officials.
“Anyone can come in and make visits,” Smith said. “They may not get an informational packet or have lunch with our group. But the Capitol is open to anyone and I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from coming in to talk to their representatives.”
Those who can’t make the trip to Austin can still participate by visiting their elected officials’ district offices, Smith added. “You can have these conversations there, too.”
How to lobby
Those who are registered, though, have the advantage of training sessions from the five sponsoring organizations on how to most effectively lobby lawmakers. There have already been several preliminary training sessions in cities around the state, and there will be 30-minute training sessions “on site” in Austin on Monday.
The training, Smith said, explains “what lobbying is, and why people should do it. We’ll give them pointers on how to personalize the conversations they will be having with, probably [elected officials’] staff members. We will explain how the Legislature works, its processes and so on.
“We’ll give everyone tips to help them prepare and compose the stories they want to share,” he added. “That’s the best way to go, to tell them personal stories about why equality matters to you.”
Organizers will also have informational packets including issue sheets to provide more talking points about the issues and what bills have been filed so far. Issues covered in the information packets include the infamous bathroom bill, SB 6, of course. But there are other topics citizen lobbyists need to pay attention to, also — such as bill that pre-empt local ordinances or interfere with local control and those that allow discrimination based on religious beliefs.
Smith said lobby day organizers also want to remind participants not to focus just on speaking against the anti-LGBT bills that have been filed, but also make plain their support for the supportive legislation before lawmakers.
“There area 39 positive bills that have been filed, and those are not getting as much attention,” Smith said. “We want folks to have those conversations, too, about the pro-equality legislation, and we encourage them to personalize those stories, too.”
Among the pro-equality bills that have been filed are SB 165, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and state contracting. Other bills have been filed in both houses that would repeal outdated language in the Texas penal code outlawing “homosexual conduct,” bills allowing correction of gender markers on official documents, bills that would improve HIV/AIDS prevention programs, equalize access to the “Romeo and Juliet” defense and more.
“There are 39 bills that we are supporting and 25 that we oppose and we want people talking about all of them,” Smith said. He noted that several bills have been introduced dealing with the same issues, which means it’s often easier and more effective for citizen lobbyists to focus on issues in general rather than specific legislation.
SB 6 and beyond
It has been widely reported that while SB 6 sailed easily through the Senate, its road through the Texas House will be significantly more rocky, because Speaker Joe Strauss does not support it.
But Smith this week warned against taking too much for granted.
“Now that SB 6 has passed in the Senate, the Senate report will be written up and it will go to the House,” Smith said. “The House will receive the bill and at some point, it will be referred to a committee, most likely the House’s State Affairs Committee.
“State Affairs is where most of the controversial bills in the House are sent, and in most instances, it is where bills go to die. Hopefully, that will be the case with this one,” he continued.
Still, he urged, “the work on the House side of this equation has to be as strong and as loud and as public and as persistent and as visible at the outcry was on the Senate side. We cannot let up in any way, shape or form.”
Smith said the about 400 people who went to Austin to testify against SB 6 in Senate hearings “must remain engaged. We need the members of the House to see the overwhelming opposition to this bill, to see the number of people who recognize this bill as the discrimination it truly is.”
Smith also encouraged those participating in All In for Advocacy Day to focus on contacting their own senators and representatives specifically.
“The most effective conversation starts with, ‘I am your constituent and … ,” he said. “And remember that even though SB 6 is getting most of the attention right now, we have to broaden the conversation to talk about any bill that singles out or targets LGBT people for discrimination.”
For a complete list of pro- and anti-equality legislation on Equality Texas’ radar, visit EqualityTexas.org/Legislature.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 17, 2017.