Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer's announcement that she supports gay marriage coincides with “LGBT in the South,” a two-day conference about strategy, support, and awareness led by the Campaign for Southern Equality, The Hart Law Group and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Jasmine Beech-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, says gay rights advocates from eight Southern states and across the US are converging in Asheville for the event.
"Our goal, and one of the hopes in this conference, is bringing together an incredible array of organizations and grass roots organizers," Ferrara said.
According to Ferrara, one-third of LGBT people in the United Sates live in the South, a region also known for its discrimination and lack of resources. As a result, much of the nation is watching what will happen with gay rights in this region.
"As our country gets closer and closer to achieving full equality for LGBT folks, the South is playing an increasingly visible and critical role nationally," she said. "This is a big thrust of what we’re doing in the conference--what’s happening on the local level day in and day out. Especially in more rural communities where there are fewer resources how can we help people protect themselves today.”
Sessions Friday include courses for health care workers, lawyers, and other social welfare workers about how to navigate the increasingly complex legal status of gay couples in the South.
The event will also feature the introduction of “Southerners for the Freedom to Marry,” a 1 million dollar multi state media campaign.
The conference on Saturday is open to the public, with pre-registration from 8:15 to 8:45 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Asheville.