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Marriage Equality USA has launched a new project – the National Equality Action Team (NEAT). According to MEUSA Program Manager Tracy Hollister, the new project was conceived by the organization’s executive director, Brian Silva. Chaired by Marriage Equality USA, NEAT is envisioned as a vehicle for national, state, local, and grassroots organizations, as well as individual organizers, to mobilize out-of-state marriage equality supporters in states with active marriage campaigns. These actions are done in coordination with, and with the support of, the local state campaigns. “Thousands of Americans who passionately support the cause of marriage equality find themselves living in a state without an active campaign and their passion lies dormant,” says Holister. NEAT now provides the opportunity for these advocates to connect with and support organizations in states like New Jersey and Illinois that have ongoing campaigns for marriage equality. Silva adds, “NEAT is a continuation of our work in winning campaigns in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, Washington, Rhode Island, and Delaware.” In 2012, MEUSA mobilized many local, state, and national organizations to support the victorious efforts in those states and paved the way for the formation of NEAT. NEAT organizations are asked to support ongoing campaigns by recruiting volunteers from their own ranks and beyond via at-home phone banks, in-person phone banks such as those in New York City and Raleigh, and through canvassing – knocking on doors. These volunteers are then enlisted to support any ongoing marriage equality campaign as devised and run by the state-based organization. NEAT member benefits include e-mail alerts with details on how marriage equality supporters can get involved, resources to participate in campaigns, training for those who want to organize local events, such as phone banks, and the opportunity to be part of the national effort to win marriage equality nationwide. Christine Allen, MEUSA’s IT director, sums up the NEAT project as follows – “The National Equality Action Team epitomizes MEUSA’s commitment to working in cooperative coalition. Forget struggling in isolation or reinventing the wheel for the four hundredth time! It makes so much more sense for a variety of organizations and individuals to pool our resources, our brains, our experiences, and to enjoy each other’s company while accomplishing needed work. The other thing that is unique about NEAT is that it makes it possible for people to do remote phone banking from home. Do you have any idea how important that is to LGBT/allied folks who may not have a local community? Or, to people who are unable to get out of their homes to events and actions? Or to busy folks who are juggling full-time jobs and parenting? NEAT provides a way for everyone to get involved – people who are often not included can contribute and be a part of creating history.” The almost 50 NEAT coalition members include faith-based groups like Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, North Carolina, and the United Church of Christ; national and local chapters of LGBTQ organizations such as PFLAG, GLAAD, and HRC; and political groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, and Lambda Independent Democrats – Brooklyn. “NEAT integrates MEUSA’s whole vision of empowering all advocates of marriage equality with its own mission of recruiting advocates to execute specific actions in ongoing campaigns,” says Hollister. Adds Silva, "This puts us on the path toward winning full marriage equality in all 50 states." Visit the National Equality Action Team website to learn more and to sign up to help bring marriage equality to all fifty states.
[caption id="attachment_424" align="alignleft" width="300"] Brian Silva, PA Rep. Brian Sims, Bob Sullivan (MEUSA Philly Local Organizer) at the rally after Rep. Sims spoke of the need for marriage equality in PA[/caption] Saturday afternoon, Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) and a number of civil rights organizations rallied at Logan Circle in Philadelphia to invigorate the late-blooming advocacy efforts for LGBT rights in Pennsylvania. Apart from raising awareness of LGBT issues, the rally marked the inaugural event for MEUSA’s newly formed Philadelphia Regional Organizing Committee (Philly–ROC) — the first local organization in the Liberty City that focuses on marriage equality issues. With Pennsylvania lagging far behind its neighboring states on LGBT rights issues — being the only Northeastern state without any form of same-sex marriage or civil union recognition — the expansion by MEUSA of the new organization is a welcome addition to LGBT advocacy groups in the Keystone State. Its strategic location in the state would certainly boost marriage equality efforts across the eastern region, with Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania (ME4PA) at present mainly having a larger presence in the western part of the state. “Because Bill and I were married in Vermont in 2009, and have moved back home to Philadelphia since, it's important for us to work for the continuity among the states; this way when we go from state to state, we don't have to figure out if we're married or not. Now that we have an established Philly–ROC, we can bring the national agenda to our hometown, where American personal liberty were first created. The community of Philadelphia is embarassed about the current state of Pennsylvania, particularly that our neighbors have already come on board, and now it's our time,” said Bob Sullivan, local organizer for Philly–ROC. The crowd was particularly energized to have two state representatives who amid busy schedules attended and spoke at the event: Rep. Mark Cohen, a long-time ally for the LGBT community, and Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly-gay representative in Pennsylvania. Rep. Brian Sims was honored with Equality Award by ME4PA for his outspoken advocacy on LGBT equality issues, including introducing marriage equality legislation with Rep. Steve McCarter following the Supreme Court’s rulings in June, and a legislation banning anti-gay conversion therapy for minors with Rep. Gerald Mullery. Coinciding with college campus day, the festive event attracted a lively student crowd, who among the hundreds of attendees signed up as new members for the various organizations. With New Jersey’s judge ruling on allowing same-sex marriage just announced the day before, the crowd was optimistic about the possibility of joining the ranks of their suburban neighbor in the fight for equality. “I could not be more proud of our grassroots leaders who have worked so hard to launch Philly–ROC,” said MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. “We know we cannot do it alone and I am looking forward to supporting our partners in Pennsylvania.” [caption id="attachment_425" align="alignright" width="300"] Brian Silva, Robert Sargent (GetEqual) and Janice Rael (Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State or DVAU)[/caption] The event was co-sponsored by MEUSA, ME4PA, the Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (DVAU), and The Summit Coalition of LGBT Activists and Allies. It drew a long list of speakers from local to national organizations such as the Human Resource Campaign (HRC) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Among the speakers were Brian Silva (Executive director of MEUSA), David Moore (President and founder of ME4PA), Bob Sullivan (local organizer for Philly–ROC), Tom Hall (organizer for the rally), Janice Rael (local leader for DVAU), and John Hanger (Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate). For more information or to get involved with Philly–ROC, visit http://www.marriageequality.org/philly.