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Posts for January, 2009

Prognosis for LGBT Civil Rights Agenda

Jim Burroway

January 24th, 2009

Barack Obama's LGBT Civil Rights ScorecardThe Washington Blade has reported on a prognosis of Barack Obama’s LGBT Civil Rights Agenda. House and Senate figures believe that a Hate Crimes Bill could be on President Obama’s desk by this summer, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could be ready for his signature by the fall.

The timetable for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is less certain. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) intends to introduce legislation for its repeal in the next few weeks, with many expecting it to be repealed sometime this year. However, Barney Frank recently suggested that its repeal may have to wait until U.S. troops are out of Iraq.

As for the rest of the civil rights agenda, things are much murkier. Granting Civil Union-like federal rights probably won’t happen this year, and lawmakers agree that the votes to repeal DOMA aren’t there.

No More Dog Whistles: Introducing the Obama LGBT Scorecoard:

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2009

We’ve had eight years of listening for dog whistles. We learned quickly that whenever President Bush or members of Congress spoke, we had to dissect every utterance, split every infinitive, and scoop every dangling participle to try to discern the secret message that was being sent to the base. For all of his assaults on English, President Bush was particularly adept at speaking that unique language which only his base could understand without raising the ire of moderates.

Along the way, we learned that the Dred Scott decision somehow related to abortion and that God prefers commas over periods. We analyzed every message, the way the CIA dissects audio tapes from Osama bin Ladin in case there might be a secret message for a far-flung branch of Al Qaida — which, coincidentally, just happens to be Arabic for “the base.”

And I think that affected to how we approached statements from erstwhile allies as well. Was that a flinch we saw when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came up? Why won’t she come straight out against “DOMA”? Why can’t he come out more forcefully against Prop 8? Every statement became a possible clue, and every omission appeared to boom louder than words.

This continued after the election. I was certainly part of it. Why Rick Warren? Why not Gene Robinson? And why was Gene Robinson’s invocation omitted from the broadcast? Why didn’t Obama give us a shout-out in his Inaugural address?

Well, we can stop listening for dog whistles. We can stop jumping up and down in excitement whenever he mentions gays, and we can stop pouting when he doesn’t. Because when the WhiteHouse.gov web site switched hands at 12:01 Tuesday afternoon, a very important document appeared: an LGBT civil rights agenda.

I said then that it looks like a very good scorecard on which we can judge the Obama administration. In fact, the more I look at it, the more I’ve concluded that no gay rights organization could have created a better scorecard in their wildest dreams.

That’s why I decided to condense it into a simple checklist form. And here it is: Barack Obama’s LGBT Civil Rights Scorecard. It’s the one he himself signed up to. And it’s one that I intend to refer to often over the next four years.

I doubt there will be immediate action on any of these items. After all, I can see how a crashing economy and a war in Iraq might be something of a distraction, to say the least. With people losing their jobs, homes, and health care, there’s a lot that needs to be done.

But I have to admit that I labor under the possibly mistaken impression that our elected representatives can walk and chew gum. They should be able to squeeze in a few of these promises in due course amongst the other things that need to be done. But even I know that we can’t sit back and assume that all of those wonderful politicians who made so many swell promises will actually get right on all those promises they made. I mean, c’mon — they’re politicians.

Besides when we’re talking about civil rights, the door has never opened because someone pulled the door open from the inside. It’s always been opened by a strong push from that outside.

That’s where we come in. They signed up for an impressive checklist. But it’s up to us to hold them to it.

An LGBT Scorecard From The Obama Administration

Jim Burroway

January 20th, 2009

At 12:01 p.m. EST, several things happened simultaneously. The Secret Service agent standing behind President Bush shifted places and took his place behind President Obama. And President Obama, even though he hadn’t yet taken the oath of office, became the official, constitutional President of the United States.

And something else happened. The Switch was flipped on the official White House website. And what a switch it is. There’s a lot there for LGBT Americans to look forward to under the heading of “Civil Rights.” Highlights include:

  • Expand Hate Crime Statutes to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Enact a fully inclusive Employment Non-Descrimination Act (ENDA), to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
  • Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  • Expand adoption rights, regardless of sexual orientation. (I’m not entirely sure that the federal government has much of a role to play here.)
  • Promote AIDS Pevention: Incluiding age-approrpriate sex education which includes talk about condoms, and distributing contraceptives through the public health system.

You might want to bookmark this post. This represents a good scorecard on which to grade the Obama administration in the months and years to come.

Click here to see the entire Civil Rights agenda for LGBT people

Barney Frank on Rick Warren, Obama, and the “Gay Agenda”

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2009

Jeffrey Toobin has a great profile of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) in the latest New Yorker. First thing that pops out is that Frank intends to be much more aggressive than Obama:

Frank’s mordant view of human nature presents a contrast to the sunnier approach of President-elect Obama, a difference reflected in their dispute over Obama’s choice to have Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor, give the invocation at the Inauguration. “Obama tends to overstate his ability to get people to change their opinions and underestimates the importance of confronting ideological differences,” Frank told me. “It’s one thing to talk to somebody. I talk to more conservatives than anyone, because I’m trying to get legislation passed. But it’s another to make Rick Warren the most honored clergyman in the world.” In California, Warren supported Proposition 8, the successful anti-gay-marriage referendum. “Now, when we fight Warren in California, we are going to hear, ‘Oh, yeah, but Obama picked him for the inaugural.’ He doesn’t deserve that honor. And I don’t want to hear that the other clergyman at the inaugural, Reverend [Joseph] Lowery, supports gay rights. I didn’t vote for a tie in the election.”

Frank worries that Obama’s evenhandedness may prove to be a political liability.

I think we all can relate to that worry. Frank, on the other hand, won’t let that get in the way of what he thinks needs to be done for the economy (he’s chairman of the powerful Committee on Financial Services) and for LGBT rights:

Frank is uncharacteristically hopeful about the future, including gay rights. “We’re going to do three things in Congress,” he told me. “First, a hate-crimes bill—that shouldn’t be too hard. Next, employment discrimination. We almost got that through before, but now we can win even if we add transgender protections, which we are going to do. And finally, after the troops get home from Iraq, gays in the military. The time has come.” [Emphasis mine]

That last point is key. If we’re going to wait until after the troops get home from Iraq, then repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” probably won’t happen for a very long time. But his response to those who claim that this represents some sort of radical agenda was pretty good:

“I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the Army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.”

GLAAD Harris Interactive Survey: More Public Support

Timothy Kincaid

December 3rd, 2008

GLAAD has released a new survey by Harris Interactive that shows increased support for a number of the gay community’s goals:

  • 49% of adults favor marriage equality; 49% oppose when presented with an up or down decision.
  • When given options, 38% favor marriage; 38% favor civil unions while disallowing marriage; and 22% wish for no legal recognition at all.
  • 69% oppose adoption discrimination.
  • 64% favor overturning DADT.
  • 63% favor trans-inclusive Hate Crimes Legislation
  • 51% support trans-inclusive ENDA, 45% do not. They didn’t inquire about non-discrimination laws that did not include transgender persons.
  • 47% support immigration rights; 48% do not. This one surprises me and may be a result of the phrasing of the question: Do you favor or oppose… allowing gay Americans to sponsor their non-American life partners to become residents of the United States.

One thing that I found fascinating is that issues of homosexuality are sharply dividing Mainline Christians from Evangelical Christians. In all questions, Mainline Christians were gay-favorable and Evangelicals were among the least favorable.

This was particularly evident on issues that were in traditional areas of Christian activism (pre-Religious Right). For example, on the ENDA question, Mainline was the most supportive of all demographics while Evangelical was the least.

As the issues surrounding sexual orientation become more instilled in the war over religious dominance in the culture, a possible positive side effect could be that the non-religious come to see this as a sectarian battle and opt out of anti-gay efforts.

Obama’s LGBT Civil Rights Agenda

Jim Burroway

November 18th, 2008

The website for President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team has posted a fairly comprehensive list of policy objectives for the LGBT community, including fully inclusive employment non-discrimination protections, hate crime protections, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” expanded adoption rights and “full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples.”

So while I’m happy to see the president-elect sign on to a very comprehensive LGBT civil rights agenda, I would be very surprised to see White House leadership on these issues. I expect that Obama will have his hands full with the economy and pressing issues in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Besides, the ball will always be Congress’s court anyway. After all, that’s where all legislation originates, and it will be up to congressional leaders to draft the legislation and place them on the calendar for a vote.

Nevertheless, it is a great thing to see. And who knew that a gay agenda would come from a straight man?

Click here to read Obama’s civil rights plan for the LGBT community

The Homosexual Agenda: What’s Next?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Jim Burroway

November 6th, 2008

So we have a new Congress and a new President, with both branches of government held by Democrats. For some of us, this is a dream come true. After eight years of a hostile administration and more than a decade of a hostile Congress, it would appear that this is our best chance to advance several issues which are important to the LGBT community.

Of course, this setup has disappointed us before. A similar arrangement in 1993 brought us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But things just might be different this time. During this presidential campaign, President-elect Barack Obama included four specific LGBT issues among his campaign promises:

  • Full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
  • Passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act
  • Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
  • Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the ban on gays serving in the military.

So, what’s really on tap for 2009?

We’ve been focused so much on marriage amendments the past several months that the DOMA is probably topmost in our minds right now. Timothy offered some possibilities and alternatives for repealing all or parts of the DOMA. As he pointed out, all of those options are problematic.

I personally don’t see DOMA going away anytime soon. Just because it’s foremost in our thoughts right at the moment doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the top of the “agenda” in January.

But we have seen considerable momentum building on the other issues. In the past two years, we saw movement on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the ENDA. Unfortunately, that ENDA was the non-inclusive variety, and the resulting dissention among LGBT advocates ultimately doomed ENDA’s passage.

We also saw Congressional hearings on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, although that hasn’t translated yet into legislative action. Nevertheless, the groundwork has been laid for DADT going the way of the dodo bird and polar icecaps.

The top LGBT priorities for 2009 will be driven by what is politically possible. In the current climate, I think Hate Crimes and repealing DADT are doable. ENDA is achievable as well, but only if we get our own act together and get behind a fully inclusive one. Otherwise, we’ll suffer the same division and acrimony as we did the last go-round, with the same result.

Besides those three items, there are some other opportunities as well. The new administration will almost certainly lift the HIV traveler’s ban after Congress repealed the 1993 law which mandated it. That law was one of Sen. Jesse Helms’s great legacies. The Bush administration signed the repeal, but it has so far failed to follow up by actually rescinding the ban. That unfinished business will be left for the next administration

We might also realize other important gains as well, like support for honest reality-based HIV prevention programs that rely on something more realistic than abstinence until marriage — especially when marriage continues to be pushed out of reach for so many gays and lesbians.

And that brings us back to DOMA. And unfortunately, DOMA is probably off the table. With the passage of three new marriage amendments in Florida, Arizona and California, there will be few legislators on Capital Hill willing to put much effort into something their own constituents voted against back home. In a stretch, we might be able to add some domestic partnership benefits for federal employees, but I’m afraid DOMA itself will probably be around for quite some time to come.

Federal Hate Crimes Bill May Be Revived

Jim Burroway

April 23rd, 2008

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has indicated that he hopes to attach hate crimes language to the defense bill either during his committee’s closed-door markup or as an amendment offered during floor debate on the bill.

Last year, Senate Democrats narrowly passed an amendment to the Senate’s FY08 authorization bill to extend the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation. That amendment also would have provided federal assistance to state and local authorities investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. It died during the reconciliation process in the House, where members feared a presidential veto.

Hate Crimes Bill is Officially Dead

Timothy Kincaid

December 6th, 2007

Anti-gay Activists can now rejoice that violent hate crimes against gay persons will continue to be ignored by the federal government.

Bashers, haters, and anti-gay activists can now celebrate together.

Liberal Democrats Vow To Defeat Hate Crimes Bill

Jim Burroway

November 17th, 2007

Well, not really, but what an ironic world we live in.

When the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act was being debated in the House, President Bush promised to veto the legislation. So when the Senate took up the measure, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) attached it to the Defense Authorization Bill in order to try to make it veto-proof. Now that the Defense Authorization Bill has passed both the House and Senate in two different forms, it now goes to a joint Congressional conference committee.

And that is where the trouble started. As many as 180 house conservatives (mostly Republican) who voted against the hate crimes bill threaten to vote against any defense authorization bill that would include the hate crimes provisions. And they will be joined by as many as 20 anti-war Democrats who vow to vote against the defense authorization because it will provide for the continuation of the Iraq war.

Now it looks like further action on the defense authorization bill will be delayed until early December. It’s unclear right now whether the hate crimes provisions will survive.

Hate Crimes Bill Passed by Senate

Timothy Kincaid

September 27th, 2007

Today 50 Democrats, 9 Republicans, and an Independant voted to add the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill to the bill that funds the war in Iraq.

39 Republicans voted against the measure. Technically the vote was for cloture – to end debate. The vote to add hate crimes to the defense bill was passed by voice vote unopposed. This allows Senators to have voted both for and against the bill.

A similar situation happened in 2004 but Republican leadership removed hate crimes in negotiations between the Senate and the House. That is unlikely to happen this time around.

President Bush will be in the uneviable position of either signing the bill and infuriating his social conservative supporters (about the only supporters he has left) or vetoing the bill and trying to explain to America that preventing hate crimes legislation is more important than paying our soldiers overseas.

Upcoming Hate Crimes Vote Thursday

Jim Burroway

September 26th, 2007

Word has it that the Senate is expected to vote on the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. The anti-gay lobby knew this was coming, with it receiving nearly constant mention at the Family Impact Summit. At one point, the Family Research Council stopped selling their $20 DVD devoted to the subject and started handing it out to anyone who would take one. They’ve been pumping out tons of lies about what this legislation would supposedly do.

I encourage you to inform yourself, read the text of the bill (which I’ve posted three times, something hate crime opponents refuse to do), and call your Senator.

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