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Nice AP story on Equality Alabama

“The South is the only part of the country where the majority of the people say they don’t know someone who is gay or lesbian.”

— Ken Baker of Montgomery, AL, a volunteer at Equality Alabama who helped refurbish its new offices in the city, right near Gov. Bob Riley’s house.

[UPDATE: Ken Baker sent me additional — and better — photos of the Montgomery EA office/meeting space today, from the recent Pride celebration. Thanks, Ken!]

That quote is sad. Alabama’s one of the last places you want to be as a gay person. The lack of a out gay community is apparent, and there’s no real support structure for people to safely come out…but that’s starting to change. Given the legislative onslaught against gays and lesbians in terms of basic rights, this new visibility is absolutely necessary. (

With Alabamians scheduled to vote next year on banning same-sex marriages, a gay rights group is stepping up its visibility by opening offices in Birmingham and Montgomery. “In order to change the hearts and minds of people, we have to be visible,” said Howard Bayless of Birmingham, chair of Equality Alabama.

Equality Alabama opened an office in Birmingham in April and one in Montgomery in July. The Montgomery office is in a refurbished house on historic Perry Street, just down the street from the homes of Gov. Bob Riley and John Giles, state president of the Christian Coalition.

Both pushed for a constitutional amendment which, if approved by Alabama voters next year, will fortify Alabama’s statutory ban on same-sex marriages by making it part of the state constitution. The location of the office down the street from Riley’s and Giles’ homes is a coincidence, but it has sparked plenty of laughs at Equality Alabama. “The governor and Mr. Giles have to drive past it every day,” Bayless said. When asked about the office, Riley said it was a surprise to him. “I have never noticed it,” he said.

The Christian Coalition’s John Giles and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley are on the same political page when it comes to gay civil rights.

Giles is very much aware of it. When the office opened in July, he ran a picture of it in his organization’s e-mailed newsletter. Giles said Equality Alabama has every right to open an office in the capital city, but he wanted his members to be aware of the group’s increased activity, particularly with the vote coming up June 6, 2006, on the same-sex marriage ban.

…Bayless said too much is being made of the constitutional amendment because Equality Alabama doesn’t have gay marriage on its agenda. “We are working on discrimination in employment and discrimination in housing,” he said.

Equality Alabama is a statewide educational organization that was created by the merger of several smaller groups. Bayless said the group’s increased activity was sparked, in part, by what the group perceived as a growing anti-gay sentiment in the Legislature. Besides approving the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the Legislature considered – but did not pass – bills which would have prohibited gays from adopting children and barred public libraries from purchasing books that portrayed homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

Opening offices is not the only action the gay and lesbian community has taken to become more visible. Some members of Equality Alabama have formed a political action committee called the Equality Fund. A campaign finance report they filed in January showed they had raised $8,332 to use toward next year’s elections.

A Day of Equality celebration is scheduled Sept. 10 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, and more public functions are slated through the fall.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding