Rhode Island LGBT leaders have high hopes for 2012

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By: Casey Rocheteau/TRT Reporter-

Speculation about 2012 is steeped in hypothetical musings about the end times, and the more realistic frenzy around the upcoming presidential election. There’s also a reasonable amount of concern over what kind of turn the roller-coaster economy will take in the next year. In anticipation of the election and everything else the future has in store, a few leaders around Rhode Island answered the Rainbow Times’ questions about what they would like to see happen for the LGBTQ community during the upcoming year.

Ray Sullivan of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) stressed that he would like to see marriage equality pass in Rhode Island this year, as well as seeing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) repealed. Stephen Hartley of AIDS Care Ocean State (ACOS) echoed these sentiments, as did Karen Melo. In Rhode Island, the issue is very much still a potent one, with lingering frustration over the last-minute agreement that allowed civil unions but did not grant marriage equality. As Sullivan explained, there is even still a discriminatory aspect of the laws which allows for any entity connected to a religious organization, such as a school or hospital, to effectively ignore the standing of a civil partnership. For Sullivan and MERI, the upcoming year promises to bring a great deal of lobbying and door to door canvassing. As Sullivan put it, “while the politicians might wish that we’d just go away, but we’re not going to. When we’re knocking on doors and making phone calls in their backyard, they can’t ignore us there. This year will have much more of a grassroots feel, and that’s how we’re going to win.”

While MERI is revving up their tactics, they’ve been faring somewhat better than other nonprofits during this recession. Due to some key contributions at the end of the year, MERI finished 2011 in a good place. One of Stephen Hartley’s biggest wishes for 2012 would be the “end of the AIDS epidemic that has ravaged the TQGLB community for over 20 years.” His organization, ACOS, however, saw a 32 percent drop in donations, he says. While there is much talk of a double-dip (or second) recession, on the ground it is apparent that the reverberations of the economic crash of 2008 can still be heard loudly today. When asked what he thought about a second recession, Hartley said, “Another? I don’t think we are out of this one by a longshot! Nonprofits are always the first to get cut in federal and state aid. But also we see donations by the general public fall. The economy is affecting everyone.”

When asked about how the economy would affect LGBT businesses, Karen Melo, a certified financial planner and domestic partner adviser, said, “Regardless of what the economy does in the upcoming year, I don’t think LGBT businesses will be impacted any differently than other similar businesses. I believe it has more to do with the type of business, its location and who they serve in general.” With this, however, there is the added issue of discrimination against LGBT in the workplace, which may not directly impact businesses, but workers. One thing that Melo would like to see in the upcoming year is “education on what the LGBT community is all about so co-workers can be comfortable talking about it in an intelligent way. I’m convinced that much of the biases we encounter are due to shear ignorance of the matter. The business community has become so politically correct that we’ve become afraid to talk about things and learn from each other.”

Indeed, the upcoming year promises to be interesting and potentially grueling, but with welcome challenges.

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