Putting a human face on issues
Ebbin and Englin do a lot of meeting and greeting at Equality Virginia’s Lobby Day, and say that attendance numbers matter when groups want to show support for a cause.
“Lobby days are a great way to put a human face on an issue,” said Englin. “I believe that equal rights are a core American value that I was elected to defend, and I’d vote that way if nobody showed up for lobby day. That said, it’s helpful for me to see the human face of the policies I’m fighting for.”
Ebbin said nothing is more persuasive to legislators than hearing directly from their constituents, and they notice when lobby days generate healthy turnouts.
“I’ll never forget walking from the General Assembly building to the Capitol, passing hundreds and hundreds of doctors in white coats holding signs with their message,” he said. “Even when we disagree with constituents, we take notice. Lobby days are especially helpful in personalizing issues and cause people to rethink their positions. It’s harder to look people in the eye and tell them you won’t support their views than to hang onto preconceived notions.”
He said that if there had been a major turnout of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents and straight allies at the 2004 veto session for the Affirmation of Marriage Act (HB751), it never would have become law.
“I know several members of the House whose votes we could have switched and it would have made the difference,” Ebbin said.
Equality Virginia lobbyists will gather Wednesday at 7 a.m. for the People of Faith for Equality in Virginia Prayer Breakfast at Centenary United Methodist Church in Richmond prior to a lobby training session. They will also coordinate with other volunteers from their own district. Participants will lobby legislators in the morning and into the afternoon, with time off to visit with key staffers and watch the floor debates. The day will end with a reception, where participants will be able to mingle with their elected officials and other activists. Both the lobby day and the reception are free.
Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, said the goals of the day are to meet with every senator and delegate and build momentum on issues of importance to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. She said Equality Virginia lobby day volunteers are representative of a strong cross-section of supporters “” straight and gay, students and retirees. Whether they come on their own, as part of church groups or carpool into Richmond, the day draws a crowd of about 250 to 300 people.
“The most important thing for lobby day is to provide our elected officials an opportunity to meet with their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender constituents and our straight supporters to learn about the issues facing our community,” she said. “It puts a face on the issue and helps build some very powerful visibility year in and year out.”