On October 20, 2010 a nationwide challenge asked communities to proclaim that anti-gay bullying will not be tolerated. The event was meant specifically to acknowledge the thirteen GLBT teen suicides, ages 13-21 that had been widely reported between July and October 2010. When AIDS Services discovered that no other organization in the state was holding a rally, the agency decided to do so on behalf of its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered supporters.
The ‘Keep Spirit Alive’ rally in Central Square, downtown Keene was a huge success. Public response was overwhelmingly gratifying, with 200+ in attendance from NH, VT, MA and major press coverage received. Speakers from the podium and the audience engaged with one another for two hours. (The event was recorded and can be seen on Cheshire TV, public access channel 8 in Keene, Swanzey and Marlborough.)
Immediately following the rally, AIDS Services received notes of thanks and suggestions for future activities related to providing support to members of the region's GLBTQ community. As a result, ASMR's Board of Directors decided to expand its mission to create leadership around GLBTQ outreach, activities and activism, including enhancing the agency's website specific to this outreach.
The agency’s Board is now considering how to offer events and collaborative opportunities throughout 2011 with organizations such as PFLAG and GLSEN, as well as gay-friendly businesses. One issue that lends itself to activism by galvanizing the GLBTQ community is holding on to equal marriage rights for New Hampshire's gay and lesbian citizens. At this time, there are five bills pending in the legislature to undo equal marriage, and the existing law requires that civil unions must become ‘marriage’ on January 1, 2011. If the newly elected legislative members, largely Republican and able to override a Governor’s veto by 32 votes, decide to change the ability for equal marriage to occur by redefining marriage as between one man and one woman, then both civil unions and equal marriages in NH will no longer exist.
Another issue whose time has come is providing education about the transgender community. PFLAG NH has been working hard behind the scenes to create an infrastructure to address transgender rights. AIDS Services has already been approached by a transgender Keene resident who wishes to fully participate in creating an educational forum, and together with PFLAG this discussion has begun.
Finally, in light of recent attention drawn to anti-gay youth bullying, we are considering creating safe activities for gay youth and supportive adults including family members, teachers, guidance counselors and other health professionals.
As a nonprofit organization, AIDS Services is well aware of political activism boundaries. Given that we have been the AIDS service organization serving southwestern NH since 1989, we understand the limitations around participating in activism that may intersect with political ideology. Our intention with this mission expansion is to provide leadership for the GLBTQ community, which includes conducting informational sessions about matters important to this constituency without being selective as to the audience or invited participants. We will not lobby legislators, but rather communicate with them via written information and through holding public meetings to which the general public will be invited in order to provide a depth of background and understanding to the conversation.
Offering educational opportunities, building GLBTQ community and youth mentoring are just some of the ideas being considered. A formal announcement of our plans will be made in January. For more information or to actively participate in this exciting base-building opportunity, please contact Susan MacNeil at 357-6855, firstname.lastname@example.org