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Equal Rights Washington toasts equality
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Equal Rights Washington toasts equality

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Equal Rights Washington (ERW), a local LGBT equality organization, held 'Toasting Equality: A Chat About the Future of Equality in Washington,' at the Hilton Seattle on November 10. Nearly 250 members of the LGBT community and their straight allies joined the cadre of who's who from local and state government, including Mayor-elect Mike McGinn and Governor Chris Gregoire.

"This morning is about us. Not us versus them. Not Gay versus straight. Not east of the Cascades versus west. But all of us, who just made history as the first state ever to vote for equality for everyone. More people just stood up for equality than ever before - statewide," said a message printed on a place card on each table.

The celebratory event began with the Rainbow City Band playing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as government officials and Approve Referendum 71 Campaign members filed into the conference dining room.

Throughout the morning, a number of notable speakers stood at the podium, including ERW Executive Director Connie Watts, Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn, King County Executive-elect Dow Constantine, and Congressman Jim McDermott, who all shared in thanking the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign staff, especially Campaign Chair Anne Levinson and Campaign Manager Josh Friedes.

Helping to boost all of the handshakes and pats-on-the-back with resounding speeches were three individuals who each helped to promote and eventually approve Referendum 71: Gov. Gregoire, Sen. Ed Murray and Charlene Strong.

"This victory happened because you [the LGBT community] recognized it was time to educate people," Gov. Gregoire said. "By reaching out, being bold, and saying 'I am a part of this community and I deserve respect,' people across the state began to understand what the domestic partnership law is about."

Gregoire warned the room of the danger in believing that the community's opposition will quietly go away. They will be back, she said.

"I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart," said the governor, referring to the voters. "I'm proud of all the Washingtonians who said yes to fairness and no to inequality."

Sen. Murray, who asked all his colleagues and their partners in the Legislature and Senate to join him at the podium, said, "When the culture changes, then the politics change." What happened in Washington State, said Murray, was not new. "This particular win coincides with a series of victories over past failures."

In a particularly poignant part of his speech, Murray reminded attendees that "today, we celebrate years of victories, and the people no longer with us who helped get us to this point."

"This win places us on the side of the mountain, not at the top of the mountain," said Murray. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us."

As the dust settled and the votes were tallied, one face has emerged at the forefront of the campaign: Charlene Strong, who spoke eloquently at the Tuesday-morning breakfast with the theme that "each of us is protected only when all of us is protected."

Over the past three years, as Charlene fought for LGBT marriage and domestic partnership equality, she heard many stories of struggle. Today, she says, "What is amazing is we now have stories of how things are getting better."

"We are not done," Strong said. "I'm not personally comfortable until we achieve full equality."

ERW, Strong said, is committed for the long haul for full marriage equality.

Besides being a victory celebration, the theme of full marriage equality dominated the morning, although no timeline was given as to when ERW and Washington State legislators would press on in Olympia. Still, the general feeling is that, with the domestic partnership law intact, LGBT Washingtonians are that much closer to achieving the goal of Gay marriage in the Evergreen State.

The breakfast symposium was also a fundraiser for ERW, who say they will continue to fight for full marriage equality for Gays and Lesbians in Washington State.

ERW is a statewide political advocacy organization for the LGBT community of Washington State. ERW works to ensure and promote dignity, safety, and equality for all LGBT Washingtonians. For general information about ERW, call 206-324-2570 or visit the organization online at info@equalrightswashington.org.

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