When Senators Barack Obama and John
McCain face off in Oxford, Mississippi Friday, gay activists won't be
far away. Gay groups and allies are organizing forums, workshops and
demonstrations on issues important to gay and lesbian voters at the
first presidential debate.
One of the most visible groups
attending is the coalition of civil rights and religious leaders
called the Campaign to End AIDS.
Eight caravans of protesters from all
corners of the country have been making their way to Oxford to
protest the absence of a comprehensive national strategy to end AIDS.
“We have no national AIDS strategy
plan,” said Campaign to End AIDS Spokeswoman Alice Leeds. “This
country has supported and given money to countries all over the world
to establish their own national AIDS plan, but we have none of our
James Meredith, who was the first
African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi, has
led marchers across 172 miles from Jackson to Oxford. Meredith is
best know for a 1966 Memphis-to-Jackson march to protest racism –
March Against Fear – where he was to walk alone for 220 miles, but
was injured by a sniper shot. Martin Luther King and other prominent
leaders marched in his place, and as the news spread, so did the
protest; the crowd had grown to 15,000 when it arrived at Jackson.
Meredith, a longtime champion of civil
rights, has now taken up the cause of AIDS in America.
“The AIDS problem is what it is
because of the condition of the poor, and the responsibility [the
rich shirk] to give to the poor,” Meredith told the Jackson Free
Press. “When they give anything, they think it's a gift. You
understand? But that absolutely ain't the way Christ meant it. It
was an absolute responsibility. That's the message God called me to
deliver; and that's what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.”
The campaign says it hopes its caravan
of protesters will bring the issue of the absence of a national
strategy on AIDS to the fore of the debate.
“We've got to push the envelope, we
got to make sure that people with HIV/AIDS are heard,” Housing
Works VP of National Advocacy and Organizing Christine Campbell told
On Top Magazine. “We believe we can end this thing. We
believe what we are missing is the political will to make it happen.”
The University of Mississippi's Gay
Straight Alliance has organized a town hall forum to address gay and
lesbian issues that relate to the 2008 election. Titled Our
Rights as Citizens and Humans, the forum will include seven
national gay and lesbian organizations, including the ACLU, GLAAD,
GLSEN, HRC, Lambda Legal, SLDN and NBJC.
“Our Town Hall is a dramatic and
historic opportunity to educate our student populace about numerous
LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues at once,” said
Gay Straight Alliance Vice President Jamie Carter.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network (SLDN), a pro-gay group dedicated to ending anti-gay
discrimination in the armed forces, is organizing an additional
workshop that looks at ending Clinton's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell”
policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the
Retired Rear Admiral James Barnett, a
native of Mississippi and University of Mississippi Alumnus, along
with SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis, will lead the workshop in
discussing the legislative opportunities available to repeal the
“I look forward to the upcoming forum
and workshop as an opportunity to educate the public about the
failure of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and ensure that this important
issue remains part of the national debate in this year's election,”
Sarvis said in a statement. “Voters need to understand how this
ban has undermined our military's readiness in a time of war. More
than 12,500 [gay and lesbian] well-qualified service members have
been fired under this bad law while our military is already stretched
too thin and the need for an effective force grows greater by the
Openly gay Army Sargent Darren Manzela,
whose recent military discharge came after he openly declared he's
gay on CBS's 60 Minutes, will also be attending the workshop.
Parents, Families and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Director of Communications Steve Ralls said
his organization will also be present at the town hall meeting.