Austin, TX (PRWEB) September 24, 2007
On October 7-13, 2007, straight people across the nation will "come out" as supporters of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.
From Santa Rosa, California, to Montgomery, Alabama, to Augusta, Maine, overnight vigils will light up American cities over the course of seven nights, providing unprecedented visibility to heterosexual men and women with the conviction to stand up for their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors.
This grassroots groundswell, dubbed Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights, was initiated by Soulforce and Atticus Circle, two Texas-based organizations with members across the nation. With their support, straight community leaders are organizing vigils in towns like Greenville, South Carolina, Shreveport, Louisiana, Duluth, Minnesota, and Salem, Oregon.
To date, straight equality advocates in thirty cities have stepped forward to hold vigils over the course of the week. The October 7 kick-off will feature an opening night vigil at The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Anti-gay Ballot Measures Create New Breed of Equality Activists
Many Seven Straight Nights vigil organizers were motivated to become more involved after divisive marriage discrimination amendments made it to the ballot in their states.
In Arizona, where fair-minded voters defeated a marriage amendment in 2006, Seven Straight Nights organizer Susan Hurley and her husband William Reber were spurred to a new level of political involvement. "When the marriage amendment was introduced, we went from being the kind of people who make phone calls and write letters to being the people standing on street corners with signs in our hands," says Hurley.
And in Texas, Anne Wynne was shocked into action by the November 2004 elections, when eleven states voted to add a ban on gay marriage to their constitutions. "When I saw the margins these propositions passed by, I thought, 'Where were the people who think like my husband and me?'" When she couldn't find an existing political organization that represented her interests, Wynne took matters into her own hands, founding Atticus Circle to educate and mobilize straight supporters of equal rights.
Motivated by Faith to Speak Up for Equality
Faith traditions also provide inspiration for many families and individuals who are organizing Seven Straight Nights vigils. In Raleigh, North Carolina, the vigil organizer is Rev. Jack McKinney of Pullen Memorial Baptist church, a local institution with a long history of involvement in civil rights struggles. The Raleigh vigil will feature church choirs and offer thanks to North Carolina corporate leaders who have taken progressive stands on domestic partner benefits.
Julie Morgan, vigil organizer for Duluth, Minnesota, is active in an interfaith committee called Standing on the Side of Love. Of her involvement with Seven Straight Nights, Morgan says, "my faith as a Unitarian commands me to be active in the world, to take my values and live them."
In other states, vigil organizers represent a variety of other faith traditions, including Judaism and Native American Shamanistic traditions.
"These fair-minded straight folks are showing their elected officials that equality is not a secular issue, not a gay issue, not an urban elite issue, not an east coast or a west coast issue--it's an American issue," says Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce.
Remembering Matthew Shepard; Organizing Against Hate
On October 12, 2007, the nation will mark the ninth anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a brutal hate crime that shocked many Americans out of complacency. With the fate of the Matthew Shepard Act still unclear in the Senate, this year's anniversary looms with particular poignancy.
Shepard's mother, Judy Shepard of Wyoming, has officially endorsed Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights, saying "All of us -- gay and straight alike -- need to act. Hate affects each and every one of us."
Vigil leader Susan Crain of Greenville, South Carolina understands the importance of hate crime laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity. On May 16 of this year, tragedy struck her city when twenty-year-old Sean Kennedy was attacked and beaten to death by a stranger spouting anti-gay epithets.
At the Greenville Seven Straight Nights vigil, South Carolinians will light 1,138 candles in the City Plaza to symbolize the 1,138 rights and responsibilities denied to gay couples by denying them marriage equality. Students from a local Gay-Straight Alliance will read aloud the names of victims of hate crimes.
In Wisconsin, where a marriage amendment passed in 2006, First Lady Jessica Doyle has stepped forward as the leader for Seven Straight Nights in Madison. According to Doyle, "We are at our very best as a state when we are open, inclusive, and actively dedicated to equal rights for all."
And in New York, where a marriage equality bill remains stalled in the state senate, Seven Straight Nights participants will vigil outside the home office of Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, which is located in Saratoga Springs, New York.
For more information, visit http://www.sevenstraightnights.org
Atticus Circle is a national organization dedicated to achieving equality for all partners, parents, and their children regardless of sexual orientation. Soulforce is a national social justice organization that advocates freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.