Volunteer opportunities on LGBT rights

This is a little off from the normal format of this blog, but what the heck.

I had a conversation last week with some people who were frustrated that they saw a lot of discussion about lack of progress on LGBT rights, but didn’t see the kind of practical, meat-and-potatoes organizing on LGBT issues as they did on things like health care– things like, call this congressperson and exert pressure on this legislation. I was surprised to hear this, because I could name several groups or bloggers doing such organizing right now. This conversation made me realize that maybe some of the less flashy but still quite practical activism on gay rights isn’t getting the attention it needs, and as a result may not be connecting with potential volunteers.

Let’s do something about that. Here below is a short list of projects in need of volunteers and phone calls now. My rules for putting a group or project on this list is that it should:

  • Have real volunteer activities that you can start doing right away– not just “sign up for this mailing list and we’ll ask you for money occasionally”.
  • Direct volunteer efforts toward a specific, immediate goal, preferably something where effort goes directly toward changing a law.

I hope someone out there will find this useful.


At the beginning of the year, Nancy Pelosi laid out a plan for gay rights in Congress, which had each of the major legislative proposals being passed in a single file fashion: The Matthew Shepard / Hate Crimes Bill first, The Employment Nondiscrimination Act sometime before the end of 2009, a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell after that, and a repeal of DOMA after. Although there have been some new developments such as the introduction of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, in general congress has stuck very strictly to this schedule all year, both in actions and in the public statements of the leadership: The Hate Crimes bill was voted on in June, ENDA was introduced in each house once Matthew Shepard had passed there, and work on ENDA is now underway as the final version of the Hate Crimes bill is set to be signed any day now. As of this week the word is still that Congress plans to address DADT at the beginning of next year.

So, if you want to make a difference in active legislation, right now ENDA is where the action is. (And if you want to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, then honestly at the moment the most effective way to get there is to get Congress to hurry up on ENDA so resources will be freed to work on DADT.)

In the House, passage of ENDA seems pretty much assured, and the only important thing is to get the committee to follow up on their recent hearings and pass a bill. In the Senate things are more complicated, and here work is needed to lock down 60 Senators willing to vote for cloture.

What you can do: The best resource on ENDA I’ve found is Dr. Jillian T. Weiss’s ENDA Diaries at bilerico.com. Dr. Weiss has been blogging every day for months with action items on ENDA, usually taking the form of “legislator of the day” posts singling out a particular House or Senate member to call to pressure to support ENDA. The information for these calls is used to maintain a running whip count. You can see a full list of Dr. Weiss’s ENDA diaries here, or a general introduction to the project (posted the day after the National Equality March), with a list of the top “problem legislators” on ENDA, here.

Also, I have received Dr. Weiss’s permission to start posting copies of her daily ENDA diaries over at DailyKos, so if you read that site then keep an eye out.


Proposition 8 basically gets a do-over in Maine this year. Maine’s gay marriage law is already a big deal in one way: Maine was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage purely through the legislature. If Question 1, which would overturn that law, fails, Maine will also be the first state where legal gay marriage withstands a public referendum vote. If Question 1 passes, on the other hand… well, that will do a lot to discourage legislatures in other parts of the country from even trying. Question 1 goes up for a vote in just two weeks, November 3, the same day as Washington’s Ref. 71 (which decides whether the state’s new Domestic Partnership law will stand).

What you can do: There are two groups organizing phone banks to persuade Maine voters on gay marriage. In both cases the phone bank works the same way: You call in at a certain time and are given a brief training session over the phone. After that you are given a script to read and a list of numbers to call. If you can just block off a few hours of time you can make a difference on Question 1 from your own home, regardless of where in America you are.

The first group doing this is Protect Maine Equality/No On 1. Their next training session is Tuesday at 6:30 PM Eastern time.

The second group is the Courage Campaign; they are actually using the same scripts and call lists as No on 1, but their training times (see link) may be more convenient for you, and if you are in California I believe they have infrastructure to allow you to call in without incurring long distance charges.

I also have an offer from Caitlin Maloney at the Courage campaign, who you can contact here:

[I]f someone went through that training and wanted to get a whole group of folks together and phonebank using their laptops and cells to make calls, I could arm that person with the additional knowledge necessary to train the group. The other option would be for me to send a group paper lists to call from. We would need a few days notice on about how many folks you expect and how long you plan to be calling, and of course we would send you all the docs you need to train folks and keep them motivated.

This would be the same work you’d be doing at home, however some people find it easier to stay motivated phonebanking with a group.



Equality California (volunteer signup here) has groups across the state working now for a repeal of Proposition 8. The biggest focus here is on canvassing neighborhoods where equality fared poorly in the election last November, trying to reach voters who might have voted against us before and understand what arguments are effective in flipping them. In my area this meets most every sunday evenings and it’s simple, just show up and they’ll give you training and a map.

EQCA offices across the state are also doing evening phonebanks into Washington for the Referendum 71 campaign.

Courage Campaign, in addition to the phonebanking program described above, has been organizing Equality Teams with regular volunteer opportunities. Hope Wood, Northern California Field Manager for the Courage Campaign’s Equality Program, describes the program as:

The mission of our Equality Teams is as follows:
▪ Establish an active and visible presence in the community for marriage equality.
▪ Develop relationships with local elected officials and supportive organizations to create an opportunity for sharing resources and building local power.
▪ Coordinate regular voter contact actions – including canvasses, phone-banks, tabling at community events, and registering new voters.
▪ Represent your community in important state-wide actions, trainings, and conference calls focused on marriage equality.

Marriage Equality Silicon Valley (volunteer information here, although the best way to keep up to date is to follow the Facebook group) has been organizing weekly phonebanks into Maine using the Courage Campaign infrastructure. I’m told there are also groups running similar mass phonebanks in SF and Alameda.


No On 1/Protect Maine Equality (volunteer opportunities here), in addition to the national phonebanking program mentioned above, also needs local volunteers for “making phone calls, knocking on doors, talking to voters at community events and helping out in the office”.


Approve Referendum 71 (volunteer opportunities here) needs state-local volunteers for phonebanking and direct outreach to pass Referendum 71 and make the state’s Domestic Partner program law.

(If there are any resources in your state that ought to be on this list but aren’t, let me know.)


While I was writing this post I learned about a site called ACT On Principles. It’s a collection of tools for coordinating and locating LGBT activism opportunities, and it includes wiki-style whip count pages, similar to the one I mentioned above for ENDA but for every gay rights bill currently under consideration. This is a fairly new site and it seems a little rough around the edges but it looks like it has a lot of promise. You may want to take a look and maybe make a few phone calls for the whip count.

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