CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and has affected change on the local level, the Post and Courier reported.
The Lowcountry organization has not shied away from controversy, nor has it ignored the needs of the community it serves. Over the years it has posted billboards, trained police officers and helped in the passage of anti-discrimination laws in towns and cities across the state.
To that end, it has refocused its efforts to include marginalized groups — transgender and gender non-binary individuals, LGBTQ seniors and communities of color. Its current executive director Chase Glenn, who is transgender, said that the climate now is filled with an increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and that it was not time for complacency.
In the late 1990s a social group called Low Country Gay and Lesbian Alliance met in a back room at Ryan’s Steakhouse. That was what was available then. But that was not enough for lesbian Charlestonian Linda Ketner. She and others co-founded AFFA with promises to be out at work and in public. AFFA battled internalized homophobia by holding workshops. It became one of the organization’s core missions.
The following year saw the erection of a billboard campaign on Interstate 26 that said, “Gay and lesbian people are valued members of this community.” AFFA leaders received death threats and angry letter. A church even competed with AFFA’s billboard with one of their own damning “gays to hell,” the Post and Courier shared.
By early 2000s, AFFA had grown from a handful of members to 1,500. Nearly 200 showed up regularly at meetings and the organization appointed its first official leader, gay ex-Catholic priest Warren Redman-Gress. This history-making moment ushered in South Carolina’s first gay rights organization to have full-time staff.
AFFA has always focused on acceptance. And, it its 20-year history, it has had to stand up to prejudice from locals. It has spent scores of funds to fight for LGBTQ rights and continues to fight against discrimination. Successes include working with the police department to have a question about sexual orientation removed from job applications, securing protective ordinances, fighting for same-sex marriage and more. Now focus is directed on transgender acceptance and support for the aging LGBTQ population, as well as uniting with other minority groups.