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Local gays gear up for long fight

The issue of defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman was not put before Washington voters as it was voters in 11 other states, but those involved in South Kitsap’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities are nonetheless feeling the sting of defeat.

Voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah overwhelmingly approved marriage-definition measures marriage. In Oregon, the amendment read, “It is the policy of Oregon, and its political subdivisions, that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage.”

The measure passed by 60 percent or more in all the states expect Michigan and Oregon.

Marcie Stilwell, president of the local nonprofit OUTKITSAP’s board of directors, said the results of the election were disappointing, but not devastating.

“There’s a little bit of sadness and feelings of defeat,” Stilwell said, “(but) it’s also energizing us to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

According to its Web site, OUTKITSAP is a health and social welfare 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving the GLBT communities of the greater Kitsap Peninsula area of Washington State.

The organization began in 1998 as an outreach program to prevent the infection of the HIV/AIDS virus in gay and bisexual men. After funding for the program dried up in 1999, it was incorporated as a nonprofit.

The organization became known as OUTKITSAP in 2000 and, every month, many volunteers work to plan events and outreach programs, as well as send an OUTLINES newsletter to over 600 households in Kitsap County from OUTKITSAP’s own office in downtown Bremerton.

“Most of us, I think, feel that if people really knew what GLBT people are like...we’re just hardworking citizens like everybody else,” Stilwell said.

As for whether she felt the local community at large supported the rights of the GLBT communities in Kitsap County, Stilwell was hesitant.

“I think some people do and some people don’t, and a lot of that has to do with the military here and some of the attitudes,” Stilwell said. “We get a lot of people turning out at our events, so I think there is some sense of community.”

Stilwell said she believed part of the reason the defense of marriage measures were so successful at the polls were their wording and a lack of funding on the part of the GLBT communities.

“I think part of it is the way the question is structured,” she said, “because a lot of the same polls that show that people are against gay marriage (also show) they are not for the discrimination of gays.”

Because of the overwhelming support for prohibition of same-sex unions in the states that put it to the voters, some conservative leaders in those states are calling for Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment defining marriage.

While Stilwell acknowledges a Constitutional amendment would be devastating, she said many in the GLBT communities are working harder than ever to achieve equality.

“There is a fear of that happening,” Stilwell said. “I think that some people are feeling stifled and some are feeling more energized. Some of us started out feeling more devastated and now we are recovering from that. One thing that we’re doing is trying to be a little more visible.”

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