EQCA: 'No illusion' on Stop SB 48
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Officials with Equality California have cast doubt on the chances of defeating repeal of the FAIR Education Act, and Executive Director Roland Palencia said they have "no illusion" that victory will be easy.
In a conference call with reporters last week, Palencia said, "The prospects are not good if [the repeal referendum] gets to the ballot. ... I'm not under any illusion that we necessarily have any advantage on this."
The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, also known as Senate Bill 48, requires schools teach about the historical contributions of LGBT people. Gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) authored the bill, which was sponsored by EQCA and Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in July. Anti-gay activists quickly launched a repeal effort and have about six weeks left to gather more than 500,000 valid signatures in order to get a referendum on the state ballot in 2012.
Palencia and others said they're working to thwart the signature gathering efforts, but, referring to anti-gay activists' use of kids learning about gays to scare voters, he said, "This is the seminal, core issue they always get us for, so they have the advantage on this so far."
He also said defeating the repeal effort "is going to be one of the most challenging things we've ever done," but he added that he and others with EQCA weren't saying the fight is "un-winnable."
Several hours after the Thursday, August 25 conference call, EQCA communications director Rebekah Orr sent an email out at Palencia's request "to clarify some of his comments today."
The message said that Palencia and others "know that even if we start way behind, a loss is not a foregone conclusion. From our starting place our chances may not look good, but I don't believe it is impossible."
Palencia said EQCA has reached out to thousands of people, but the group's reaction to the repeal effort has appeared sluggish for weeks. On recent, weekly conference calls with reporters, the LGBT lobbying organization's leaders have repeatedly spoken of research, message testing, and coalition building, while ads and other tangible signs of a campaign have been slow to materialize.
Last week, however, Palencia spoke of coming out strongly against SB 48's opponents, saying the campaign is going to be about defining repeal backers as "extremist" and letting Californians know "about how dangerous these people are" to them.
And this week an effort to promote that message started. In an email blast Tuesday, August 30, Palencia said, "Last week the 'Family Research Council' – a virulent, anti-LGBT and widely recognized hate group, with ties to the Ku Klux Klan – joined the effort to destroy the FAIR Education Act and released a video full of lies, scare tactics and propaganda."
(An after-hours call to the Family Research Council wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.)
Included in the email, which also urged financial contributions to fight repeal, was a video of FRC President Tony Perkins. In the video Perkins says, among other things, that SB 48 would force teachers into "advocating for behavior they find morally objectionable," and "impressionable children as young as 5" would be "indoctrinated into these lifestyles."
It appears the efforts to preserve SB 48 could use some financial help. Orr, EQCA's communications director, said last week they have "limited resources," but she couldn't immediately say how much money had been raised, or how much was needed.
In the event that the referendum makes it to the ballot, a statewide campaign likely would cost millions of dollars, as the Proposition 8 campaign did three years ago.
Courage Campaign weighs in
In a letter sent Monday, August 22 – more than a week before Palencia's email about the Family Research Council – Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, a partner in the coalition to fight the referendum, sent a letter to a Stop SB 48 official.
The letter says, in part, "It has recently come to our attention that some of your signature gatherers are telling people that the FAIR Education Act mandates that homosexuality be taught to kindergartners. ... As you know, that is entirely false."
Asked in an interview about the chances of keeping an anti-SB 48 referendum off the ballot, Jacobs said, "Who knows? ... We can only deal with what we can control, and what we can control is getting messages out to our base and defining the other side."
He added, "While we can hope or wish for certain things, we have to prepare for the worst" and "make sure the base understands the threat that this poses."
Others with EQCA also had some dim views on defeating the repeal efforts.
Andrea Shorter, EQCA's marriage and coalition director, said, "We're not likely to be able to defeat the opposition" on the signature gathering. Repeal backers' base is "beyond the reach" of most progressives, she said. However, she also said there's "a fighting chance" of beating the referendum back.
One challenge appears to be that signature gatherers aren't necessarily easy to spot. Shorter said, "These are not folks that are in droves on the streets we can see in broad daylight," but "largely behind the closed doors of their churches."
EQCA and others have spent weeks trying to develop the right messaging. Orr acknowledged the campaign is lacking "snappy sound bites," but, with the help of coalition partners, "We're going to have a richer set of input in terms of research and how to move communities and speak to them in culturally competent ways."
Leno, SB 48's author, said in an interview that he's joined a few of the coalition's weekly conference calls and "I'm encouraged and impressed by the coordinated effort. The coalition is very broad-based and represents every civil rights group throughout the state."
As for whether having such a broad coalition is slowing the campaign down, Leno said, "I think it's far too early to make any definitive statements. They're working diligently, regularly, and in a focused fashion."