Write your congressperson

Boyce Hinman

Photo By Larry Dalton

After retiring from the state’s Employment Development Department in 1992, Boyce Hinman became a full-time volunteer lobbyist for Lambda Letters, an organization he helped found that urges citizens to voice their opinions on social-justice issues to California legislators. Though sometimes confused with organizations like the Lambda Community Center, Lambda Letters is entirely independent, though it chose the name for noble reasons; the Greek letter is associated with justice and “the reconciliation of opposites” in Greek history, according to records in Hinman’s collection.

So, can you explain the program?

Lambda Letters is a program to help people write to their legislators on a variety of civil-rights and health and social and economic justice issues. We work in four areas: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues; HIV/AIDS issues; issues of a concern to people of color; and women’s issues. We focus mostly on helping people write to their legislators, because lots of lobbyists have told us that they’ll go and speak to a legislator and urge that person to vote a certain way, and the legislator will say, “I really agree with you, but nobody in my district is telling me that, and I’m afraid to vote the way you want me to.” So we back up the in-your-face lobbyists, so to speak, with constituent mail. With the snail-mail mailing, we issue a newsletter each month with background information on one bill in each of those four subject areas that I mentioned, explaining why it’s important to support or oppose the bill. And we enclose a personalized sample letter. If you were on our mailing list, your four letters would have your name and address on the top and would usually be addressed to your particular legislator. With the e-mail alert system, it’s somewhat similar.

Is this based on a nationwide model?

It wasn’t based on a model, but rather on an experience that I and my partner had. We went back to the LGBTI march on Washington back in 1987, and we were impressed. There were about half a million people there. And we thought Congress would be impressed as well, but I and my partner stayed for a few days after the event and were there when the first of Senator [Jesse] Helms’ AIDS initiatives were passed. And that was a bill that basically prohibited the use of any language that was likely to make AIDS literature of any interest to gay men, anything that was sexually explicit or anything of that sort. … There was some public funding of AIDS educational materials, and to try and get gay men to read the material, they tried to make the documents kind of sexy. Senator Helms and other conservatives took some offense at that. … As a result of that experience, it became clear to us that really you did need constituent mail from people in the districts of the legislator to try and influence legislation.

How many folks do you have on your lists?

About 1,000 on our snail-mail mailing list and another thousand or so on the e-mail list.

And how do people find you?

Some find our Web page. We do go to pride festivals and other events and have tables where we explain the project to people. We just had an event in San Diego called Where is the T in Marriage Equality?, which was a seminar on what effect marriage for same-sex couples might have on trans-gender couples. It’s an interesting area in that there will be people of the opposite sex physically who marry, and then one of them determines that they’re transgender and changes sex. Are they still legally married? If prior to marriage, someone has sex-reassignment surgery—a male becomes female via surgery—can that person legally marry a genetic male? So, there are a lot of issues of that sort surrounding all of this.

Are there issues you target year after year?

Of course, marriage for same-sex couples is a very obvious one. It’s been a long struggle to get complete and effective clean needle and syringe exchange programs. Each year we inch forward with a little more. And another one of the hot-button person-of-color issues is, of course, the driver’s-license requirement for undocumented immigrants, and we’ve steadfastly supported that, and that again got passed and vetoed this year.

Were you surprised that Assembly Bill 849 got as far as it did before it got vetoed?

Yeah. I grew up in New York, and I remember a very conservative person who ran for the state Assembly and lost. He was in a very liberal district. And a reporter asked him what he would have done if he’d won, and he said, “Well, I would have demanded a recount.” He would have known something was wrong. Yeah, I was astonished actually. And I must say that I’m awed by the legislative skills of Mark Leno, and Equality California did a marvelous job of coordinating all of the various organizations, including Lambda Letters, and getting the effort out.