Equality Forum focuses on LGBT community’s advances, challenges

Participants in the annual Equality Forum  in Philadelphia this week meet Monday to discuss the state of gay

Participants in the annual Equality Forum in Philadelphia this week meet Monday to discuss the state of gay

In addition to the Democrats, another national group has gathered in Philadelphia this week as the   annual Equality Forum takes place. It will spend the next few days discussing the state of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights in America.

LGBT rights advocates are taking a victory lap, but with caution.

Last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld same-sex marriage, the LGBT community rejoiced but quickly went to work against a legislative backlash. State legislators around the country immediately introduced bills trying to curtail the rights of gay people.

“In the last set of state legislative sessions, there were about 200 anti-LGBT bills proposed in the state legislatures,” said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Only a small portion of them — four —  passed. For comparison, three years ago there were only 14 bills.”

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Esseks, who is director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV project, was on a panel discussion about the current and future legislative activity related to the gay rights movement. He, along with Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Janson Wu of the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, stressed the need to merge efforts with other disenfranchised groups, as discrimination is often a combination of race, poverty, physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as sexual orientation.

Later this week,  the forum will feature political discussions with elected officials. It also plans  ceremonies surrounding new historic markers at the former home of activist Barbara Gittings and the site — the Arch Street Meeting House — where 300 activists met to organize an historic 1979 gay rights march in Washington.

On Thursday, the Forum will conclude with an awards ceremony honoring U.S. House Democratic  leader Nancy Pelosi and former Gov. Ed Rendell.

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