In June 2015, the marriage equality movement was celebrating what they had been fighting for, for years: the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country. Finally, LGBT couples could say “I do” and enjoy the rights that their neighbors, friends, and family had for so long.
However, even before the Supreme Court made its ruling, one group was already looking ahead to the next fight.
“We started to kind of get together and put together some brainstorming: What were the things we learned from the marriage movement?” remembers Matt McTighe, the executive director for Freedom for All Americans. “How can we capture this momentum and make sure those lessons learned and some of the resources we had developed … and [apply] it to this next big fight, which was winning nondiscrimination?”
Freedom for All Americans is based off of the playbook of a marriage equality group -- Freedom to Marry -- and launched as a new campaign aiming to pass nondiscrimination protections around the time of last year's historic Supreme Court ruling. Right now, 28 states do not offer protections to LGBT people. In fact, states have been doing the exact opposite.
“People are starting to realize the work is far from over,” McTighe said.
Southern states such as North Carolina and Mississippi have passed laws that allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people under the guise of religious freedom. People have been up in arms, refusing to do business with the states and celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams canceling concerts as a show of solidarity.
Freedom for All Americans is working on a longer term plan to slowly but surely pass non-discrimination laws state by state, hoping that in the way of marriage equality, there will be a tipping point. McTighe said they hope that in five years, at least half of states will have protections in place for LGBT people.
But for now, the group is busy: in the last year, more than 150 anti-LGBT bills have come forward.
“Most of them have been defeated, some cases quietly and some cases more publically,” McTighe said. “For every Georgia where the governor did the right thing and vetoed it, you have a Mississippi where they signed something into law.”
Using lessons that were garnered during the marriage equality movement, Freedom for All Americans wants to use targeted campaigns and positive strategies. Different communities have a different relationship with LGBT people, so a single message will not work. Also, working with businesses and municipalities has helped to bring the issue to the state level.
According to Equality Florida, 53 percent of Floridians live in a municipality that does not provide LGBT protections. Cities like Lake Worth, Miami, Miami Beach, Wilton Manors, West Palm Beach, and Tampa are leading the way by providing protections to people based on their sexual orientation as well as gender identity.
Gender identity is not always included by municipalities when they create nondiscrimination laws. The newest program for the group is the Transgender Freedom Project, which is an opportunity for transgender people to share their stories and humanize a community that so many may not be familiar with.
“We need to be able to prepare for any of the attacks that come our way, but we also need to be able to put personal stories and a personal face on these issues,” McTighe said. “Most Americans have not met somebody who is transgender.”
To learn more about Freedom for All Americans, or to participate in the Transgender Freedom project, visit FreedomForAllAmericans.org.