In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, love will be in the air in Pennsylvania’s capital, as LGBT and ally communities come together for a host of events meant to raise awareness about the need for marriage equality for same-sex couples.
In what is now a six-year tradition, Pennsylvania will honor National Freedom to Marry Day on Feb. 12 with a series of visibility-building activities, which this year have grown in both number and size.
Bolton Winpenny, one of the organizers of the Freedom to Marry Week festivities, said that this year the coalition of sponsors — which includes the Pennsylvania Diversity Network, the LGBT Center Coalition of Central Pennsylvania and the Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania — wanted to expand the number of events to provide increased awareness to the issues surrounding marriage equality.
In addition to the annual marriage-equality rally in Harrisburg, this year’s Freedom to Marry activities will stretch for nearly three weeks, with last weekend’s Pennsylvania Progressive Summit, which hosted a marriage-equality panel discussion, serving as the first event.
The activities will resume at 9 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center with a cocktail social and drag show, which Winpenny said will, in part, seek to reach out to those in the heterosexual community who aren’t yet active in the fight for marriage equality.
“There are a lot of people who fight tooth and nail to remove our rights and then those who fight just as hard to gain the rights, but there are a lot of people who are in the middle who just don’t understand the issue,” he said. “We want to bring people into this new arts center who aren’t usually participants in the LGBT community for a night of fun and entertainment and also make sure they are educated about marriage equality.”
The LGBT community will also garner integral visibility next week by way of a photo exhibit of nearly 400 same-sex couples that will spend a week in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg. The award-winning photo project, created by Pennsylvania Diversity Network executive director Liz Bradbury, will be on display from Feb. 7-14.
“It’s difficult to look someone in their face and tell them that they’re less of a person and they shouldn’t get their civil rights,” Winpenny said. “This project puts faces to the issue, and when legislators walk in and out of the Rotunda, they can see the actual faces of those couples who are being discriminated against.”
Lawmakers will meet members of the LGBT community in person during a lobbying day Feb. 8. Organizers are encouraging LGBTs and allies to press their elected officials on current state-level legislation to legalize same-sex marriage — as well as the effort to ban marriage equality in the state constitution — in addition to the measures that seek to ban LGBT discrimination and expand hate-crimes protections to include the LGBT community.
“We want people to come face-to-face with their lawmakers and let them know that they’re there in their districts and they’re concerned and they vote,” Winpenny said. “But we also want the reverse to happen: We want LGBT people to feel the pain of telling their stories of discrimination so that they can be energized to continue this fight.”
Following the legislative meetings, activists will gather for a press conference with Pennsylvania Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.), who is spearheading the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in the Keystone State, and then will set off on the annual marriage-equality march and rally throughout the streets of Harrisburg.
At 7:30 that night, Leach will discuss marriage equality with Maggie Gallagher, president of antigay National Organization for Marriage, at the Cooper Student Center at Harrisburg Area Community College in a debate sponsored by HACC Allies and HACC’s Center for Global Education.
“I’ve heard Daylin in debates before and he just puts people who are opposed to marriage equality to shame,” Winpenny said. “Maggie is pretty much one of the loudest voices for homosexual oppression, so I just don’t know what she’s going to say, but Daylin is someone who really understands the issues and is articulate and energetic and he knows how to debate.”
Same-sex couples will let their own voices be heard during two organized initiatives Feb. 12, in which couples will apply for marriage licenses at courthouses in Allentown and Pottsville.
“In small towns like Pottsville, people think that there aren’t any gay people, so this action will document that these couples are here and that they’re trying and being denied their civil rights,” Winpenny said.
Throughout the week there will also be a series of faith-based events, such as interfaith-marriage-equality celebrations at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, 118 State St. in Harrisburg, and 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Lehigh Valley, 930 N. Fourth St. in Allentown, and the blessing of same-sex couples at 11 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, 1508 Market St.
The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania will host a group of faith leaders and same-sex couples, as well as Bradury, a representative of Leach’s office and American Civil Liberties Union attorney Mary Catherine Roper for a marriage-equality panel discussion at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Jewish Community Center, 3300 N. Front St. in Harrisburg.
Philadelphia will also host its own marriage-equality event later this month, with The City of Equal Love social from 4-7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Northern Liberties. The event will feature live bands, a marriage-equality vigil, a multimedia display on the piazza’s outdoor screen and restaurant specials.
For a complete rundown of Freedom to Marry Week events, visit www.freedomtomarrypa.org.