By Diane Silver
This column was first published in the Liberty Press in 2006, so the election I discuss is long past. The advice about getting involved in elections still holds, though. Because of the hard work of many fine people, some of the worst of the anti-gay crowd like then Attorney General Phill Kline and Congressman Jim Ryun were booted out of office last year.
When I first helped lobby the Kansas Legislature for LGBT rights, I was floored by the response from lawmakers.
It wasn’t the opposition that surprised me. What amazed me was the support.
The year was 2004. I was one of many volunteers working to stop lawmakers from sending a proposed ban on same-sex marriage to voters. That year we won. Even though we lost the marriage fight the next year, our margin of defeat in the Legislature was narrow.
All of which brings me to the point of this column: The biggest secret in Kansas politics today is that fair laws for LGBT Kansans can win in the Statehouse.
I won’t deny that many lawmakers are enthusiastic members of the religious right, but many others are fair minded. They want to vote for fair laws and decent treatment for LGLT Kansans. They want to protect our children and our families, not destroy them.
The problem, though, is that a number of these folks vote against their own beliefs. They do so because they are frightened of the religious right’s political muscle.
Believe it or not, this is good news.
Think about it: The problem isn’t the rightness of our cause or figuring out how to make our case, it’s our political power. This means that you and me can change the situation, and we can do it today.
It’s election season in Kansas. The primary is Aug. 1. The general election is Nov. 7. By getting involved, you can put fair-minded people into the Legislature and other offices.
You don’t have to be rich or have huge blocks of free time. That is particularly true in a state as small as Kansas. Here a seat in the House of Representatives, for example, can be decided by a few hundred or even a dozen votes.
What can you do?
First, register to vote.
Oct. 23 is the last day to register for the November election. Advance voting begins on Oct. 18. Learn how to register at www.voteks.org or at your county clerk’s office.
Second, educate yourself.
Learn where candidates stand on fair treatment for LGBT Kansans. Fortunately, this year that task is easier than ever before.
The state’s new gay-rights group, the Kansas Equality Coalition, is reporting incumbents’ voting records and the results of candidate questionnaires at www.kansasequalitycoalition.org.
Third, get involved.
Give money. Even the smallest check can make a difference. Give directly to the candidate of your choice, or send a check to the new Kansas Equality Coalition PAC at PO Box 3736 Topeka, KS 66604.
Give time. Even one or two hours walking door to door, participating in a phone bank or stuffing envelopes helps. Don’t worry about knowing how. Campaign staff will tell you what to do.
Most importantly: Vote. On Nov. 7, get yourself, your family, your friends, your straight neighbors and your coworkers to the polls.
Actually, I lied.
Going to the polls is vital, but it isn’t our most important task. What do we really have to do to win? We have to believe we can.
I’ve watched Kansas politics for more than 20 years. Too often I’ve seen the results of our fear.
Despair paralyzes. It keeps us from doing the work that is required to win elections.
I’m not saying that the road will be easy. I not saying we’ll get everything, or even half, of what we want in this election or the next one or the one after that.
We suffered a huge defeat in 2005 when voters approved the ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. However, the significance of that campaign is much different than many people think.
Our percentage of defeat was large, but few voters actually went to the polls that April. Only 24.6 percent of registered voters cast a ballot against us. For the first time in Kansas history, 179,432 of our neighbors stood up to support fairness for LGBT Kansans. We received support in every county in the state, even the most rural.
When we launched the campaign against the marriage ban, we didn’t have a dime. Activists from across the state hadn’t even met. We hadn’t identified our straight allies. A geographically diverse gay rights organization didn’t exist. Today, all that has changed.
The political landscape is undergoing a transformation. The pace may seem glacial, but we are stronger today than ever before.
The only thing that can truly stop us is us.