It was a night of celebration on the evening of Mar. 22 as Georgia Equality hosted a reception to cap off the Equality Federation’s annual Southern Regional Leadership Summit. The weekend-long event brought together representatives of 13 LGBT advocacy groups across the region, as well as a few representatives of national LGBT groups including Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign.

The mood was light as 40 to 50 people sipped wine and snacked on hors d’oeuvres in the annex at the Phillip Rush Center to complete another year of coming together to strategize and share ways to break through with victories in a conservative region.

The event continues a recent trend of the spotlight turning towards the region, after the Southerners for the Freedom to Marry initiative kicked off in February, an expansive study on domestic LGBT funding in the south was released and successful defeats of anti-gay “religious freedom” bills occurred in the just-ended Georgia legislative session.

“For us, this is the moment of the south,” Equality Federation Executive Director Rebecca Isaacs told GA Voice. “We’re completely interested in making sure the south gets its due and the recognition and its fair share of resources.”

The Equality Federation is a national organization that provides support and resources for state-based LGBT advocacy groups across the country. Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham called them “the most important organization that you’ve never heard of” in a speech during the event.

This southern cohort of the Equality Federation began five years ago, when representatives from each state in the region decided that an additional yearly event would be helpful to address the issues unique to the south.

“A lot of the work that we have done with our Safe Schools work in Georgia actually came from that very first southern cohort meeting,” Graham told GA Voice. “That gave us the idea of how we could do this work district-by-district across the state, measuring it not by the number of districts that we touch but the percentage of students that we touch, which allowed us to help think strategically.”

Bob Gibeling, openly gay candidate for the state House of Representatives, was among the crowd and spoke to GA Voice about how such events help everyone stay informed on the issues at hand.

“We’ve been in a defensive position for a long time, so we’re beginning to feel the enthusiasm to see how we can move to a more positive position on claiming LGBT rights in Georgia,” he said.

“There is no interest in any part of the country being left behind,” Isaacs said. “Basically, it’s all for one, one for all. If we have equality, it has to be everywhere.”

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders

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