Wynne, a married mother of 3, founded Atticus Circle in 2004 after voters in 11 states passed anti-gay marriage amendments
Two years after the launch of the Austin-based LGBT family advocacy group Atticus Circle, founder Anne S. Wynne realized membership had grown to 2,500 people in 49 states.
The only state missing from the roster was Oklahoma, but it was not to remain that way for long. Wynne, who is straight, married and the mother of three children, had a strategy in mind.
“I’ve got some cousins there,” Wynne said in a telephone interview last week. “I can fix that this afternoon.”
And the next day she had it fixed, with the group’s executive director, Jodie Eldridge, reporting membership in all 50 states.
The group has doubled its supporter base in the past six months, and a similar increase is planned for the next six months, she said.
Eldridge noted that when Wynne asks people in the straight community to join her cause, she usually gets their cooperation.
“Anne’s strength is her ability to connect with people in a heartfelt, sincere way,” Eldridge said. “When she talks about the loving couples and families she has met over the last two years of this equality journey, people are captivated.
“Once equality for all families is on their radar screen, people say it is time to stand up straight for equal rights. Anne likes to say that change will occur with one conversation and one heart at time.”
Wynne, a Dallas native, founded Atticus Circle in November 2004, after voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
“I was horrified at the margins by which the amendments passed,” said Wynne, who is a fourth-generation lawyer specializing in family law.
Wynne also realized the anti-gay marriage bans would aggravate a problem she had already noticed in the family law courts. Some gay and lesbian couples with children were splitting up, threatening to keep one parent from ever seeing their children again and vowing to never pay child support.
“And that is behavior heterosexual couples happily did to each other until we put laws in place to protect those parents and those children,” Wynne said. “We have at least three million gay families in this country with at least a million children. Those children don’t have the same rights that my kids and those parents do. That, to me, in un-American.”
Wynne said that the reaction of her business associates, family and friends to the launch of Atticus Circle was positive. It was named for Atticus Finch, the main character in “To Kill a Mockingbird” who stood up for other people’s rights.
“I live in Austin so we’re kind of a pink dot in the red sea,” Wynne said. “People here in the vast majority have been overwhelmingly supportive.”
Travis County was the only county in the state to vote down Proposition 2, which banned gay marriage in Texas in 2005.
For the year prior to the Texas vote on Proposition 2, Wynne served as a spokeswoman for the No Nonsense in November campaign fighting the ballot measure. She debated the issue with proponents of the effort to ban gay marriage.
Wynne warned that the anti-gay marriage amendment would “hurt Texas families and hurt Texas children.”
Proposition 2 passed, but Wynne said she thinks a lot of progress was made in educating people.
“It changes the debate when a straight, married mother of three kids stands up and says this isn’t right,” Wynne said. “This isn’t about me.”
Wynne said she believes public opinion about LGBT families is changing rapidly as fair-minded people learn more about the issue.
“Where we are in what I consider to be a civil rights struggle is a massive education campaign,” Wynne said. “You can’t be interested in changing something if you don’t even know the issue.
“We have to get these issues on fair-minded people’s radar screen in a way that takes it out of the hate debate that’s going on with the radical right. When people hear about legal rights, unfair treatment and discrimination, fair-minded people want to fix it.”
Wynne said younger people are more receptive to the message.
“The best news is that the young people are going to save us from ourselves,” Wynne said. “Polling shows if you are under 35 you get the issue, and it doesn’t matter if you identify as Republican, Democrat or Independent.”
Some older people, such as State Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, have shown they are capable of changing their minds. Chisum, who debated Wynne and formerly advocated banning LGBT couples from foster parenting, announced after the November election he would no longer object to gay foster parents.
“The day after the November election Warren and I were at a TV station, Wynne said.
“While we were chatting, waiting to go on, he told me that he was not going to go after gay foster parents anymore, and that he thought they did a really wonderful job.”
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, called Wynne a “tremendous asset” to the LGBT rights movement.
Wynne was named to the group’s board of directors this year, and she recently joined the board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
“Her focus is one that we really need in expanding our effort to have more allies in our fight to achieve equality for the LGBT community,” Scott said. “She comes with a different viewpoint. She comes fresh to this discussion.”
Wynne said most of her outreach has been to the Central and South Texas areas, but she plans to extend that to her hometown of Dallas soon. Her relatives, prominent Dallas residents Angus, Shannon and Temple Wynne, have already contributed generously to her project, she said.
“We’ll get up there,” Wynne said. “We just didn’t start up there.”
Wynne said she has volunteered for nonprofit groups for 30 years, but the LGBT rights movement has become the greatest focus of her energy. Wynne was appointed by Gov. Ann Richards to be the first woman to serve on both the General Services Commission and the Texas Transportation Commission.
“I’ll do this until every person in America has the same rights that I do,” Wynne said. “This is the passion of my life.”
For information about Atticus Circle visit www.atticuscircle.org
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.