By Rachel Tennenbaum

Amidst the hoopla of the New Year, Santa Cruz’s GLBT Alliance has not lost sight of what is most important to them: working toward equal rights. The alliance is beginning the year with the “Queer State of the Union,” a two-hour event this Sat., Jan. 12, that will focus largely on political issues.

Assemblymember John Laird, one of the few openly gay members of the national government, will be reviewing what the year 2007 meant politically, as well as discussing what to look out for in 2008.

In addition, attorney Emily Texel will be speaking on the delicacies of the term “domestic partnership,” and a member of the Santa Cruz American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will discuss the continuing fight for gay marriage.

Merrie Schaller is the co-chair of the GLBT alliance of Santa Cruz and one of the event’s organizers.

She hopes that the Queer State of the Union will inform the public about critical and timely issues affecting the GLBT community.

“It’s always important to get information to people. There are new laws that affect [the community], and three elections this year,” she said, also emphasizing the vital role of activism. “What is of importance for me is people understanding why it’s important to be involved locally, because it’s on a grassroots level that we make a difference.”

The event is co-sponsored by the Santa Cruz chapter of the ACLU, the Law Offices of Eileen Hamilton and Emily Trexel, and the Santa Cruz Diversity Center.

“The better informed each person is, the better the state of the Queer Union,” said Jim Brown, executive director of the Diversity Center.

He said that the Diversity Center appreciates the opportunity to become involved with the event through sponsorship.

“The Diversity Center is here to bring the community together,” he said. “We’re trying to develop a sense of belonging.”

Although the State of the Queer Union is a city event, it is resonating on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Tam Welch, program coordinator at the Lionel Cantu GLBTI Center on campus, said that the Queer State of the Union is just one example of a way in which the center encourages students to become involved in the local community.

“The connection of UCSC and local Santa Cruz is a very important connection, and the political activism that happens on campus needs to reflect and support what is happening in the wider community,” Welch said.

She stressed the importance of student involvement in local issues as beneficial to both the student and the cause.

“It’s very easy to immerse yourself [in activism] and not see what’s happening in the cracks of GLBT equality,” Welch said. “Students reaching out off the Hill helps ground their experience in what is happening on a national level and a local level.”