Yesterday, while over 200, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and allies were in Harrisburg to lobby our elected officials to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for the state, history was made when a Senate committee voted two bills– one covering employment nondiscrimination and one covering housing nondiscrimination– out of committee, bringing them one step closer to a vote in the full senate. Never before has there been a vote on LGBTQ nondiscrimination in the Senate, so this is a very big deal and worth celebrating. But at the same time, it was just a first step and there is a long process ahead. Today, I want to spell out parts of the coming process and leave you with a call to action– something you can do to help keep this legislation moving forward.

It isn’t purely coincidence that the vote happened while so many of us were there. Many of us met with our elected officials and shared our stories and that type of lobbying has a positive affect.

Senate and House: Two Separate Paths

To get a nondiscrimination bill (or bills) to the governor’s desk for signature, they must go through both the Senate and the House. In the Senate, these two bills have now cleared the committee, and a third bill providing nondiscrimination protections in public accommodations is still in committee. In the House, there is currently one comprehensive bill which is being held up at the committee level by the committee chair who has been outspoken in his opposition to the bill. Two House members are trying a procedural process to get around the chair’s refusal to allow a vote on the bill. In other regards, no matter how historic yesterday’s vote was, it truly is just the beginning. Helping legislators understand how the bills would impact you will help in both the Senate and the House.

Two Paths but One Strategy

Even though different paths are being taken in the two chambers, there is one strategy needed to keep these measures moving. Our elected officials need to hear from their constituents as to why these bills are important. Our elected officials and their staff need to hear our stories! A variety of lobbyists and others share facts and details about nondiscrimination with our elected officials, but what can only come from constituents are your real life stories about why these protections matter to you. These stories– your stories– matter, and your elected official needs to hear yours. It doesn’t matter if you are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, or an ally, you can share your own story and why these nondiscrimination protections are important to you.

Go Old School

In this era of digital communication, it is very easy to click on some poll, or send a tweet and think you have done enough to make your opinion known. But ultra-quick digital interactions won’t help your elected officials know why these legislative efforts matter to you.  The very best thing you can do is take 10 minutes or less and write a letter. Going really old school, and handwriting it, is even better, but a typed letter will work too. But if you want to be 100% sure that your elected official will read your letter, handwrite it and send it via the US postal service.

Contents of the Letter

In your letter, introduce yourself. In my letter, I’d start by saying, “I’m Thomas Waters, and I’m a gay man living in the Highland Park area of Pittsburgh.” That’s pretty simple, one sentence to introduce yourself.

Next, a few sentences about why comprehensive nondiscrimination matters to you. You might say something like, “Comprehensive nondiscrimination protections matter to me because I want to work hard and do my part to help Pennsylvania be strong, and that is difficult if I have to be afraid of losing my job, or being denied housing simply for being a gay man.” It can be that short– the key is that you speak from a place of “I,” and be authentic to yourself. Don’t try to write a term paper full of facts and information. Just speak from your own experience. If you have faced discrimination, share those details. Keep it brief and focused. Remember, the question you are responding to is”why comprehensive nondiscrimination matters to you.”

Next, ask your elected official to vote for comprehensive nondiscrimination. In my letter, I’d just say that: “Please vote for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections.” Period.

Sign off. I’d end it saying “sincerely” because I mean everything in my letter sincerely.

There. That’s it. You can write a letter that will have impact in less than 300 words and under 10 minutes time.

Write two letters– one to your PA Senator, and one to your PA Representative. They can basically be the same letter.

Read over your letter. How would it feel to you, if someone was sending this letter to you?

What Not to Write

There are some things not to write in your letter:

  • No attacks or threats. “If you don’t vote for this legislation, I won’t vote for you” is a way to do more damage than good with your letter. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to share part of your story!
  • The letter is not meant as a way to pour out your heart and soul to the elected official. If you start to write and eight pages later, you are still writing, then clearly doing an exercise to get all your feelings out is needed. But that isn’t what this letter is all about.
  • Don’t make assumptions about your elected official. Don’t assume your elected official is for or against the legislation. This letter is about you– how these protections will impact you. Their current stance is really unimportant. The goal is to have your story help the elected official understand how the legislation will impact his or her own constituents. If they are for the legislation, your letter can help strengthen their resolve. If they are on the fence, it can help them make up their mind. If they are opposed, you become a real person and make the legislation be about real people, and that can help shift their opinions.
  • Don’t say anything that would drive a wedge between you and your elected official. Your letter is a way to reach out, like offering a genuine handshake. It is not a way to try and push around your elected official, because that will only lead to failure.
  • Don’t complain or be angry. We all can find lots to complain about, but this letter isn’t the time or the place for it. Same thing with frustration and anger.

Here’s a link to get the addresses of where to send your letters because, your story can’t do any good if it is just one more email filling up the legislator’s inbox. Send it old school to assure that your letter gets opened and read.

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/

This matters

We have never been closer to having state-wide nondiscrimination protections! Your elected officials are there to serve you. You help make that happen by placing in their hands exaples of how this legislation will impact their constituents. You help them make informed decisions and vote for the legislation.

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