WE DO Campaign

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara from Asheville, NC

The Project

Under current laws, LGBT people in the South are second-class citizens. We can be fired for being LGBT; we cannot legally marry or create civil unions; we lack basic family protections; and we face robust opposition to our rights. The WE DO Campaign responds to these realities by using a bold, new strategy. This growing campaign involves LGBT couples requesting - and being denied - marriage licenses in their hometowns across the South in order to highlight what happens when discriminatory state laws are enforced and to advocate for full equality under federal laws. Friends, family, and clergy stand with the couples as they take this action. Since launching this effort in 2011, we have run WE DO actions in 10 communities across NC and SC, from small towns of less than 500 to large metro areas. Nearly 40 LGBT couples and more than 500 Support Team members have taken part in these coordinated public actions to date. The goal of the WE DO Campaign is to build public support for federal equality by telling the urgent story of real LGBT lives in the South. The WE DO Campaign has been covered by media outlets including MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, the BBC, and The Guardian (UK); the videos we produce about the WE DO Campaign have been viewed by more than one million people. The WE DO Campaign is based on empathic resistance, a new ethic which calls for 1) resisting unjust laws by expressing the authentic self and 2) expressing empathy towards those who oppose your rights.

The Progress

The WE DO Campaign is run in stages. The first three stages of the WE DO Campaign, conducted between October 2011 and May 2012, have demonstrated the momentum of this growing movement. In addition to the media coverage referenced above, we see the human impact of the campaign on the local level. LGBT people and allies describe the experience of being part of the WE DO Campaign as "transformational." Individuals who are conflicted about LGBT rights are moved by seeing their neighbors and colleagues taking public actions to call for equality . We are currently preparing for, and seeking support for, Stage Four of the WE DO Campaign, which will take place in January 2013 and involve actions in up to eight Southern states and D.C. Actions will begin in the Deep South in early January, as local LGBT couples take action in their hometowns. We will move north through the region, with actions becoming larger as Stage Four progresses. On the final date of Stage Four, couples from across the South will request and be denied licenses in Virginia and we will march into D.C, where a same-sex couple from NC will be legally married. Stage Four will highlight the disparities in marriage laws between our nation's capital and the entire Southern region. Through our media campaign, we will do extensive outreach to new and traditional media on the local, regional, and national levels to tell the story of Stage Four. The WE DO Campaign will continue to grow across the South until we achieve full federal equality.

The Team

The Campaign for Southern Equality is a scrappy, nimble group promoting LGBT rights in the South. Facing entrenched discrimination in state laws, we use an innovative strategy to advocate for federal equality for LGBT people. We are currently preparing for Stage 4 of the WE DO Campaign, which will involve actions in 7 Southern states and Washington, D.C. over the course of January 2013. We will proudly stand with LGBT couples as they request marriage licenses, knowing they will be denied but taking this action to demonstrate the harmful effects of discriminatory laws and call for federal equality measures. We also provide free legal education and support services to help LGBT people protect themselves under current laws. We are led by a 3-person team. I am the Executive Director, an ordained minister, a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow, and author of a forthcoming book of short stories. Lindsey Simerly, our Campaign Manager, has journeyed from homelessness to being a political operative with an over 90% win record on local, state and federal campaigns. And Aaron Sarver, our Communications Director, whose background in journalism and politics positions him to tell the story of our work through social media tools and media outreach, earning us coverage in outlets such as The NY Times. While many write the South off as unwinnable, we believe that LGBT people and allies in our region have a vital role to play in achieving federal equality.

The Fearless Changemaker

Raised in North Carolina, Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is a minister in the United Church of Christ. She is a graduate of Brown University and received a MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and a MDiv from Harvard Divinity School. From 2004 to 2010, Jasmine developed the blueprint for CSE, as she worked on LGBT rights and electoral campaigns around the country, published a series of articles in The Democratic Strategist about innovations in the LGBT movement, and developed the ethical framework that undergirds CSE's work, empathic resistance. Since launching CSE in 2011, Jasmine has been interviewed about LGBT rights in the South by media including MSNBC, The New York Times, and the BBC. She has been named an Asheville YWCA "2012 TWIN Honoree" for her local leadership and selected as a 2012 "Equality Champion" by Equality North Carolina. As Executive Director of CSE, she collaborates closely with her colleagues, Lindsey Simerly and Aaron Sarver, both of whom are leaders in the proposed project. Jasmine is also a fiction writer whose stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Crazyhorse, and other publications. A recipient of a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, her collection of short stories, titled Damn Love, will be published in 2013. Jasmine and her wife, Meghann, live in Asheville, NC.

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