National Stonewall Dems meeting here in June

 A schedule of events and activities aimed at making the annual convention of the National Stonewall Democrats this summer’s premiere gathering of GLBT political activists is quickly taking shape. The convention will be held in Pittsburgh June 2-5 and will include speakers, training workshops and opportunities for convention-goers to sample local nightlife.

      The four-day event will be hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Stonewall Students, the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, the Capital Region Stonewall Democrats and the Liberty City Democratic Club.

      The University of Pittsburgh Stonewall Students was organized last August to work to stop Pennsylvania’s proposed ban on same-sex marriage. Jim Sheppard, one of the group’s founders, said Pitt students have immersed themselves into preparing for the convention and have taken on “key organizing assignments,” helping to secure facilities for workshops and convention activities, recruiting local and out-of-state participants and arranging for free housing during the convention for out-of-towners. Pitt students also plan to help sponsors staff information tables and will help people navigate around campus.

      About 100 students from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia have already registered to attend the convention. The local organizing committee expects strong participation from the tri-state area due to some hotly contested 2006 political races.

      John Marble, communications director for the National Stonewall Democrats, told Out that he views student activists as an “important part of the leadership team of our national organization, as well as our local chapters.” In addition to student Stonewall chapters, convention planners are working with the Young Democrats of America and the College Democrats of America. Both Marble and Shepard said straight students are enthusiastic about building political victories and ensuring equal rights for gay and lesbian families.

      Scott Safier, co-chair of the event planning committee of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, expects a high level of participation by state and national Democratic organizations and elected officials. Safier noted that GLBT voters are the second most loyal block of Democratic voters in the country; typically, 86 percent of all registered GLBT voters back Democratic candidates. Only African-Americans have consistently turned out to support the party in higher numbers.

      A main focus of the convention is the training of effective and politically  savvy activists capable of securing important victories in upcoming Democratic campaigns. Organizers promise that workshops will help participants hone existing skills and gain new ones.

      Safier said the committee has developed training sessions geared to help both new and experienced organizers make significant, strong contributions to Democratic victories. The training provides a mix of technical and organizing skills with a wide variety of “hands-on” practice exercises. 

      Workshops scheduled so far include:

      ·“Messaging on GLBT Issues in an Election Year,” led by Stacey Sobel of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights;

      ·“Earned Media: How to Spotlight Your Organization’s Work,” led by Tom Hoffmann of the Service Employees International Union;

      ·“How to do Field Campaigning,” led by Sam Hens-Greco, field director, Georgia Berner for Congress;

      ·“Organizing Effective Canvassing,” led by Jody Hirsch, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania; and

      ·“How to Plan an Event That Raises Money, Not Your Blood Pressure,” led by Jo Wyrick, National Stonewall Democrats.

      Other topics are expected to cover talking to candidates about GLBT issues, using the Web, volunteer recruitment and campaign finance.

      Early registration is now being offered at the organization’s Web site at www.stonewalldemocrats.org; the cost is $50 for adults and $20 for students. Registration entitles participants to attend the opening night reception and two days of convention activities including breakfast and lunch.

      The official convention hotel is the Pittsburgh Hilton, downtown, which is offering rooms at a discount price of $109 per person. Organizers said the Hilton was selected as the convention’s official accommodation provider because it is one of the few unionized hotels with easy access to transportation to the convention site in Oakland.

      Planned nighttime social activities include a private reception with the convention keynote speaker for an extra $100 and a trip to PNC Park for a Pittsburgh Pirates/San Diego Padres baseball game. Discounted tickets for the game will be available through the Pirates, an official sponsor of the convention.