Through the flurry of Gay Pride parade preparations, including building a four-foot-tall sparkly equal sign, the Human Rights Campaign members held strong to the issues they value. Even though the parade was a fun spectacle, awareness of the organization increased greatly through participation in the event.
Erin Gurak started a little over a year ago with the Human Rights Campaign as a volunteer for the Membership Outreach Committee and within five months she moved up to co-chair.
“If I wasn’t going to be able to work with an LGBT organization as a career, I knew I had to be involved at least in a volunteer fashion,” Gurak said. “My interest was piqued when I started looking into Prop 8. I then decided to just show up to a HRC meeting where I ended up meeting my future co-chair Glenn Bagley.”
Founded in 1980, the Human Rights Campaign is currently the largest LGBT equality rights advocacy group in the nation. In 1995 Stone Yamashita developed the current logo of a yellow equal sign on a blue background as a symbol for equality for all.
“I had seen the sticker with the equal sign everywhere but didn’t know exactly what they worked towards,” Gurak said. Now she works to make sure people know exactly what the Human Rights Campaign does.
The local HRC chapter holds many events in Austin. The Membership Outreach Committee’s main goals are to sign up and renew members so they can add to the 1 million nationwide supporters and use that number to lobby Congress for LGBT legislation.
Anna Powell, a Membership Outreach Committee member, shares the Human Rights Campaign’s desire for equality education in the workplace.
“In 30-plus states, including Texas, you can be fired for being a homosexual. You can lose your livelihood just for your boss not liking that you are gay. I have friends and members of our organization that have been fired for being gay,” Powell said.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, initiated through a local LGBT rights organization, Equality Texas, is legislation that would prevent this from happening to anyone else.
Glenn Bagley, Membership Outreach Committee co-chair, was discharged from the U.S. Navy for, according to military documents, “homosexual acts.” “HRC works locally to work nationally, that way our grassroots work makes a strong case for such legislation as ENDA to go national,” Bagley said. “No matter where people are, if they are like-minded, we will get involved with them because by volume and by number we can make a difference. I believe we are on the right side of history.”
Gurak said it is incredibly easy to get involved, either by volunteering or becoming a member for $15. By visiting hrcaustin.org or the local Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HRCAustin, you can sign up to volunteer or check out what local events are coming up.
“I started out as a volunteer and got more involved quickly,” Gurak said. “Actually, a UT junior is our newest member of the steering committee. Since steering committee members aren’t forever, we roll off eventually, it’s a great starting point for beginners.”
Gurak, Powell and Bagley each have a personal connection to the cause of LGBT rights.
“I’m a straight ally, so a big inspiration to me is my friends and family,” Gurak said. “My aunts got married in New York last year after being together for 23 years. They called me and said part of their inspiration to get married was the work HRC does and my involvement with them, it was very meaningful.”
Powell finds that the work the Human Rights Campaign does toward marriage equality is not just about the cake cutting or ceremonies but about how it affects families’ everyday lives.
“If I were to have a kid get sick in the hospital, I legally could not visit them,” Powell said. “I would have no legal recourse. If a partner were to die, I would not get their benefits. I’m involved so the families get a fair shot.”
The most poignant and astounding thing Bagley has heard came from straight ally and co-chair Gurak.
“I asked her why she did this and she said, ‘The rights and privileges I enjoy mean nothing if everyone cannot enjoy them,’” Bagley said. “That’s what we do, we fight for the underdog.”
Printed on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 as: HRC localizes tolerance