Gay activists to organize involvement

Despite losing Amendment 2 vote, groups work to raise gay rights awareness.
Thursday, August 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:39 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Near the corner of Again Street and West Boulevard, an upended “No on 2” sign rests against a wooden fence. Inside the house, Heidi Murphy helps paint her friend’s entry.

The sign was up two days ago, she explains, but then the lawn mowers took it down. Gardeners also took down the sign in front of her house.

Although Amendment 2 passed during the Aug. 3 primary election — which constitutionally defined married as being only between a man and a woman — Murphy continues to oppose the initiative.

In part because of a gay friend, Murphy said she feels strongly about the issue and was surprised by how Missourians voted.

“No one should be able to decide what love is,” she said.

Less than two weeks after the primary, “No on 2” yard signs are all but gone from the Columbia area, but the city will remain a focus of gay-rights activism in Missouri.

“This is a process,” said Ashlyn Shelton, a MU student who volunteered for the Constitution Defense League. “We won Columbia, which made the local volunteers very proud.”

In Missouri, the amendment passed by 72 percent, however in Columbia, it was defeated by about 1,000 votes.

According to Carol Snively, Mid-Missouri Field Organizer for the Defense League , more than 500 local volunteers contributed to the campaign. Many of the volunteers had not previously been involved politically, but will continue to help out, she said.

“Some are feeling frightened because they are not sure what the large margin of yes and no votes mean. Some are sad and discouraged, but a lot of people are feeling hopeful,” Snively said.

With increased local participation, Columbia-based Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered organizations will be able to target new communities and take on new projects, according to Snively. In the coming months, groups such as the Columbia/Mid-Missouri LGBT Coalition will form new committees to reach out to religious and rural constituencies in mid-Missouri.

“There needs to be a more visible community of gay residents in Jefferson City,” Snively said. “Many of the people we talked to were afraid to come out and help with the campaign.”

Nearly 100 local residents have also joined The Center Project, an organization working to build an LGBT and queer community center in Columbia.

Leaders of Promo, a statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil-rights organization, met in Columbia on Monday to plan their Annual Equality Summit, which will be in Columbia on Sept. 10 and 11. The summit will bring together staff and volunteers such as Shelton from across the state for training.

According to Executive Director Jeff Wunrow, Promo has increased its database of LGBT-concerned voters tenfold from 20,000 before the election. Wunrow said Promo identified LGBT voters in every legislative district, giving them a stronger base to confront legislators.

“We have resources beyond our wildest dreams,” he said.

Promo plans to use mailings, canvassing and phone calls to encourage voters to support LGBT-friendly candidates in November, according to Wunrow.

“It would be a huge mistake not to use the network we’ve grown,” he said.

The focus of gay-rights activism in Missouri has shifted from the marriage issue. According to Wunrow, Promo lawyers have decided not to challenge the amendment in Missouri. Promo has acted as an informal advisor to LGBT organizations in other states considering similar amendments.

The Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri has similarly acted as an informal advisor to organizations lobbying for similar amendments in other states.

“We believe we’re the Show-Me state, and we’ve shown the rest of the nation that marriage matters and we want to see it protected,” said Vicky Hartzler, spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri.

Hartler said the coalition was an informal grass-roots network of concerned citizens and has no formal plans for the November election.

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