2008: The Year to Win for GLBT Equality

The economy. The Supreme Court. War. The lives of those on the frontlines.

We all know how much is at stake in the 2008 elections.

For the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, matters of life and livelihood are on the line. In the coming years, some of the issues most critically important to us will be addressed in the 50 statehouses, in the halls of Congress, and in the White House. These include employment discrimination laws to ensure that hardworking employees can't be fired just for being themselves, hate crime protections, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and the legal protections that committed couples need to take care of and be responsible for each other.

At the Human Rights Campaign, we are acutely aware of just how much hangs in the balance for the GLBT community. That's why we've launched the "Year to Win" campaign, an unprecedented multi-million dollar nationwide effort to elect fair minded leaders to the White House, Congress and in the states.

Four years ago, our issues were used by the right wing to manipulate and distract the electorate, but we vowed never to let that happen again and took the steps necessary to reshape the political landscape for equality.

In 2006, we put boots on the ground, raised millions of dollars, and sent our 700,000 members to the polls. With a 94 percent win rate in more than 200 races, HRC's influence was felt in victories for strong pro-equality candidates like Florida's Ron Klein and Arizona's Gabrielle Giffords and in the defeat of anti-gay politicians like Rick Santorum. Our 2006 electoral work, which played a decisive role in flipping control of the House, Senate and statehouses across the country, led HRC to be ranked the second most successful political organization in the country by National Journal ("Reversal of Fortune", National Journal, 11/11/06).

But, that was just the beginning.

The 2006 election showed that when we define issues of equality on our terms, we win. This year, Year to Win takes it to the next level. To further harness the power of its members and supporters and to derail the right wing's predictable attempts to exploit GLBT issues for political gain, the $7 million national campaign will train and place workers on targeted campaigns, launch a massive GOTV program to reach 5 million GLBT Americans, unveil a new online bundling program to raise millions for candidates, and work from the ground up to drive change through the 2008 election.

Through our new Camp Equality program, we are training the workers needed to elect fair-minded candidates and defeat discriminatory ballot measures. Camp Equality will provide state-of-the-art campaign training for more than 1,500 participants in 14 cities across the country. At the end of the two-and-a-half day training, campers will be transformed into invaluable resources and deployed to competitive races across the country.

We're also working hard to reach and inspire the GLBT community and its supporters to take an active role in the 2008 elections. At each stop on our second annual True Colors tour, we'll ask the concert-goers to sign a "Pledge to Vote." HRC will also launch a massive GOTV effort to reach 5 million people at pride festivals across the country. And HRC staffers have been on the ground working with state groups to defeat a discriminatory marriage amendment in Florida and keep another off the ballot in California.

Already the organization has played a significant role in the 2008 cycle by raising awareness around issues such as repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the opening of field offices in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the hosting of the first-ever live, televised Democratic presidential debate in front of a GLBT television viewing audience.

Why is it so important for the GLBT community, and more specifically, HRC, to take action in this election? The answer is quite simple. This is an historic election. We can't afford four more years of a Bush-like presidency. And, the best way to change hearts and minds toward equality for all is to actively engage and motivate our community to participate and to ensure that GLBT issues are discussed in a positive, constructive way. If you don't define who you are and what you're about, then surely your opponents will do it for you.

Since 2004, the nation has moved toward equality. According to a May 2007 Gallup poll, 89 percent of Americans support equal employment opportunities for gays and lesbians. A University of New Hampshire survey showed that four out of five (79 percent) Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve their country in the military. More than a dozen states have enacted pro-equality measures, such as anti-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, domestic partnership benefits and civil unions.

From mobilizing millions of GLBT Americans, recruiting and training campaign workers for battleground races, and strategically targeting resources to "high-impact" races, the Human Rights Campaign is working from the ground up to increase our margin of pro-equality leaders in Washington and across the country, and ensure that issues of equality are discussed in '08 on our terms -- and never again used as a divisive wedge by anti-gay forces on the right.

We may not quite be at a watershed moment for equality, but the tides have shifted in our direction. 2008 is not 2004, but we're not taking anything for granted.