Equality Ohio begins its second year in new digs
Ohio�s statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization is beginning its second year with new offices near the Ohio Statehouse and a new political action committee.
What has been a little over a year of remarkable growth and focus on Ohio�s first pro-active GLBT agenda was sparked by three events, according to Equality Ohio organizer and director Lynne Bowman.
The first was the November, 2004 passage of the Ohio constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions. The second was a sense of concern for GLBT families caused by the amendment. This was demonstrated by a Columbus area lesbian couple who had adopted a special needs son, setting off a chain of phone calls among community leaders. The third was a January, 2005 Gay People�s Chronicle article announcing Toni Broaddus� appointment to direct the national Equality Federation, and Bowman�s realization that Ohio had no affiliate.
Bowman says she finished reading the article and immediately contacting Broaddus to see what could be done.
Broaddus provided plenty, according to Bowman, including use of computer software and national contacts for organizing and fundraising, and she put Bowman on a list serve to connect her with other, more advanced state groups.
�We would not look like we look, if not for the Federation,� Bowman said.
People around the state began to talk, and consensus was reached on core issues and principles.
The Legacy Foundation of Columbus kicked in $50,000, and memberships grew in number, as well as other contributions.
Bowman was hired to be the new group�s first paid staffer, helping to coordinate the regional leaders and volunteers who were determined to make the statewide organization succeed.
And it did.
After its first year that included voter identification projects on GLBT issues and a successful Statehouse lobbying day in May, Equality Ohio, with its three staffers and a developing intern program, moved into its first office on July 1.
The new space, in the historic LeVeque Tower on West Broad Street a block from the Statehouse, has 500 square feet of conference and training area, and can house up to eight staffers.
�There�s a perception of reality with office space,� said Bowman, adding that the space will allow for allies to meet with Equality Ohio staff, and for the productive synergy of the staff working together in one place.
An open house in the new offices is tentatively set for August.
The next staff positions to be filled will be a full-time development director and a full-time director of strategic communications, who will design messages for non-GLBT people. Bowman hopes to renew her contract for another year in August.
In May, the Equality Ohio Campaign Fund was officially launched. This affiliated group is a political action committee that will endorse state political candidates beginning this year, with the goal of expanding into federal races later.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and his running mate Lee Fisher were the first to be endorsed. The endorsement didn�t come with a campaign contribution, but Bowman hopes to change that soon.
Bowman said the political action committee hopes to raise and distribute $100,000 �intentional and strategic dollars� to GLBT-affirming candidates its first year, making it one of the largest among the state GLBT organizations affiliated with the Federation.
Currently, Equality Ohio counts those who log into the website and receive email updates at around 6,500 people, which Bowman wants to grow to 100,000 by the end of 2006.
�This allows us to go meetings with legislators and tell them we have 10,000 activists in their district,� said Bowman, �where right now, we have about 450.�
A program called Get Active monitors how much Equality Ohio e-mail gets opened.
�Right now we have a 42 percent e-mail open rate,� said Bowman, �and a newsletter open rate of 30 percent.�
�It has been rewarding to see what folks want to do and have been willing to do,� said Bowman, adding that she�s especially excited about finding GLBT activism where she thought none was.
Bowman said by 2008, Equality Ohio needs to be a $1-million-a-year organization, and she is confident that goal will be reached.
�People realize that where there is no money, there is no staff, and people have been willing to make investments in their future,� Bowman said.
�We can�t impact the culture of this state from Columbus,� said Bowman. �We need field staff, and we need to make grants to local organizations getting started, and we have a lot of work to do in the next couple of years.�
Bowman said that currently 65-70 percent of Equality Ohio�s money has come from the Columbus area.
�It�s because it�s here and easily accessible, and cheap to go after, but the development director is going to change that ratio,� said Bowman.
Equality Ohio also wants 1,000 paid memberships by the end of the year.
Bowman is optimistic, pointing out that in its first year, Equality Ohio raised $300,000 from individual contributions, and drew over 500 people to two Statehouse events.
Bowman said a major outreach project for the coming year will be focused on college campuses, with a goal being a future leaders alliance, and intentional leader training and development statewide.
�Each board member is going to mentor a younger person,� said Bowman, �to teach them how boards operate. And we want to build capacity locally.�
Bowman said the intention is to attempt to further diversify the board along the lines of race and ethnicity next year, and that in July, the foundation board will get six new members, and the political action committee board will get four.
Equality Ohio�s goal for the next Ohio legislative session is to pass an employment non-discrimination law.
Equality Ohio is found on the web at www.equalityohio.org.