MOBILE — The City of Mobile’s LGBTQ liaisons and the Southwest Alabama Inclusion Project gathered Thursday for a “Queer Town Hall.”

The event, held at the Innovation Portal in downtown Mobile, included representatives from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama.

Corey Harvard, the executive director for Prism United, opened the town hall with a word that set the tone for the town hall.

“The anti-LGBTQ propaganda machine is hard at work,” said Harvard. “On social media, on the news, at city council meetings and even at local Pride events, everywhere we turn, misinformation abounds. It’s hard to find hope at a moment like this.”

Mobile LGBTQ liaison Natalie Fox told the 30 people in attendance that typically, town halls are focused on local issues, but the one Thursday evening would cover things happening across the state and the nation.

“So, you know, across the United States, there has been an open attack on the LGBTQ community,” Fox said. “That’s no surprise to any of you in this room.”

Carmarion Anderson, from the HRC, discussed a state of emergency declared by the HRC.

“Last year, I called it a state of emergency for Alabama, but this year, we’ve gone to hell and back,” Anderson said. “You know, so, this is why we have done this state of emergency for LGBTQ people in the United States: For the first time in 40 years – I want you to think about that – 40 years, in history, we’ve had an unprecedented and dangerous spike in our anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across every state, pretty much.”

Anderson said Alabama led the way in many bills concerning LGBTQ policy and that other states filed “copycat” bills.

“For instance, in the state where I come from, which is Texas, adopted the majority of what we attempted, or what the conservatives attempted to attack us, and we saw that this year in Texas and in other states,” Anderson added.

The HRC had a hard time keeping up with the volume of bills, Anderson claimed.

“[I]t was very difficult for any national organization, state organization or grassroots honestly to keep up,” Anderson said. “What we saw was, even though they were copycat bills, there were some slight variation. So, we were attacking one bill that was similar to another state as of last year; that was a win for us because we didn’t have to produce as many talking points … So, what they did this year, they slightly changed things so that it wouldn’t be directly copycat, so whatever we produced to oppose these discriminatory bills, it still popped up in another state.”

Bills discussed were those that restrict gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and surgery for children and teens, require students in public schools to use the bathroom associated with their gender, prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-5 classrooms, protect women’s sports and ban drag shows in public places. Anderson called these bills dangerous.

“It’s the hurtful, Christian rhetoric that they choose to lead with versus the non-Christian rhetoric, which we all know is love,” Anderson said. “Do you understand that? That’s a universal language and not one time have these conservatives brought up love, acceptance, inclusion, diversity. They only brought up hate, hell and discrimination.”

The HRC has been working alongside the SPLC and the ACLU, Anderson said. Jerome Dees (SPLC) and Dillon Nettles (ACLU) joined the town hall via video conference.

“There are a lot of things our respective organizations would like to do to try and expand our rights and work on the affirmative,” said Dees. “But in a state like Alabama, we spend the majority of our time on the defense.”

“They will get more aggressive, and we should be prepared and equip ourselves for that,” said Nettles. “Do we have a legislature that operates from a place of fear and in fear of what they don’t understand? Frankly, what they don’t want to try to understand. Our work is not to be able to go in and change each other’s minds; it’s impossible if I’m being honest with you. But what we do have to do and what we can do is continue to grow our power as a community of people who are being ourselves and who are standing in support of the LGBTQ+ community, and we have to double and triple down on our efforts.”

The town hall ended with a call for LGBTQ supporters to act and plan for the next legislative session. Jordan Giddens, with the HRC, pointed out recent statements made by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) for plans to remove funding from the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

“A state senator from Mobile, Chris Elliott, recently came out yesterday threatening to propose during the special session, a bill that would defund the Alabama Department of Archives and History to the tune of $5 million because they hosted an event that cost zero dollars in taxpayer funds, with an outside organization called the Invisible Histories Project.”

Fox told 1819 News she was pleased with the turnout and was hopeful that the people of Mobile would be able to work together no matter their differences.

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