While issues like marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections were certainly on the agenda at this weekend’s National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, keynote speakers highlighted conservatives’ efforts to obstruct the right to vote as one of the most pressing concerns for the LGBT community and its allies. In his address at the conference’s opening session Thursday night, NAACP president Ben Jealous emphasized that “our nation is in the midst of the greatest wave of voter suppression legislation since before the creation of the NAACP”:
JEALOUS: Supporters of voter suppression are responding to the growing diversity in this country, and the political power of this new population. They are afraid of the more inclusive America that the future holds.
And they know that coming after your right to vote is the first step to coming after so many of your other rights. That includes the right of workers to organize; the right of a woman to make decisions about her body; the right to walk down the street without fear of being harassed for papers; the right to stand alongside your loved one in his hospital room; the right to be yourself at work.
On Friday, Rea Carey, president of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, used her annual “State of the Movement” address to rally the LGBT community toward fighting the voter suppression efforts sweeping the nation. Calling voting an act of “resistance and insistence,” she urged the conference and movement at large to “occupy the vote”:
CAREY: Our opposition — those who do not believe in our full humanity or equality are on the attack. But, mobilizing the right-wing base to come out and vote on marriage isn’t actually their trump card anymore — it’s much deeper than that.
It’s the very ability to cast a vote. [...]
Having lost ground on LGBT and racial justice and equality over the last 40 years, and not having enough respect for our democracy to accept it, the right is now doing all it can to complicate the rules to register, get a ballot, vote early — you name it, they’ll do it, if it disenfranchises certain types of voters.
And so we are called to lead and to protect access to voting. This is in our self-interest and in the interest of our allies! We are people of color, we are students, we are transgender.
In 2012, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Maine are already preparing for referendums on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Washington and New Jersey could join them. Conservatives are also attempting to use ballot initiatives to attack California’s law mandating that school curricula be LGBT-inclusive. The right of LGBT citizens and their allies to vote is crucial to advancing equality, and voter ID laws present a serious threat to that goal.