The Democratic National Committee (DNC) held its Summer meeting from August 27 -29 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since next year is a presidential election year, this meeting featured a "meet the candidates" session, as four of the announced candidates, Governor Lincoln Chafee, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Governor Martin O'Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders ( in alphabetical order) addressed the membership. Only Senator Webb who has been polling next to zero was not present reportedly for family obligations. Although he has not announced, Vice President Biden had supporters present who were meeting with DNC members and State party senior staff.
There were opportunities to meet and greet the candidates and their campaign staff at the host hotel as well as at receptions both at the hotel and at offsite venues.
As the Republican Party becomes more reactionary in policy and action, it's apparent that the DNC's support for LGBT rights becomes stronger and more inclusive.
At our LGBT caucus meeting there were several positive things on which to report:
Our former Caucus Chair, Rick Stafford of Minnesota was honored as LGBT Caucus Chair Emeritus! Rick has had a long history with the DNC and was the first "out" State Party chair. Significantly for trans people and inclusion he was very supportive in making the DNC Charter and by laws transgender inclusive and was encouraging, welcoming and respectful for me as member. In recognition of his support in adding transgender inclusive non discrimination language in the 2008 DNC Convention Platform and for adding inclusive LGBT language in the delegate affirmative action rule, the Transgender Delegates at the 2008 Convention in Denver awarded him the Jane Fee Award. For you trivia buffs, Minnesota's Jane Fee was the first transgender Delegate in 2000.
As Rick spoke about the times that gays had to fight for recognition in the DNC and for the right to have their Caucus officially recognized, it was noted that today 3 out of the 9 DNC officers (33 percent) are members of the LGBT community.
Sean Meloy who is the new DNC Director of LGBT outreach was praised for his work and steep learning curve. He jumped in immediately to his new job.
At the caucus, a senior HRC staffer made a presentation about the new comprehensive and inclusive LGBT non discrimination legislation known as the "Equality Act" H.R.3185; S1858. With the retirement of Rep. Barney Frank, and the refusal of Republican Speaker Boehner to bring up the flawed Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) after it had passed in the Senate 64-32, I think that we can now say that ENDA is dead and will be buried!
Why? After the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Decision, the religious exemption language in ENDA was deemed unacceptable by most LGBT organizations and legal experts as it would codify LGBT people as second class compared to the people protected by the language of the Civil Rights Acts. ENDA was only about employment, but the Equality Act is much more... jobs, housing, education, public accommodations, credit, federally funded programs and jury service.
We celebrate marriage equality as a huge win... but, as we can see there is so very much more to do to close the inequality gap for LGBT people! This Equality Act will address very much of this gap directly. This seems to be a "no brainer" for Senators and Representatives who are or claim to be advocates and supporters of LGBT rights. This should be bi-partisan, Right?
Well, not exactly! As of September 3, 2015 H.R.3185 was introduced by David Cicilline RI-1 with 168 cosponsors, all Democrats! The Senate version S.1858 was Introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley-OR along with Tammy Baldwin-WI, Cory Booker-NJ and 37 other Senators, all Democrats and the two Independents
When I go to DC or Trenton (For NJ State issues), I usually wear my non-partisan hat. I've developed friendships and relationships and shared successes on both sides. It was a surprise that there were no Republicans, not even Susan Collins or Mark Kirk, both normally reliable supporters of and co prime sponsors of LGBT legislation. The biggest surprise and disappointment was the absence of Southeast Florida's Ileana Ros Lehtinen, who has a transgender son, has an out gay Legislative Director, and a history of being a Champion of LGBT rights! I reached out but got no reply.
The status and support for The Equality Act is a major story and should be a continuing dialogue for all LGBTQ Americans and families and allies in 2016 election cycle.
Our Caucus chair, Earl Fowlkes noted that the percentage goals for LGBT delegates are in general higher for 2016 than in 2012, so we are encouraging and expecting a record number of delegates, alternates and committee members in 2016 at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia. To make that happen we need Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democrats to step up, learn the rules and apply.
One last thing, totally non partisan, but extremely important for all transgender and gender non conforming people, is to take the US trans survey. The more respondents the better! It is a way of coming out anonymously, responsibly and safely and making a positive societal and educational contribution that may even indirectly improve your own life. A win ... win!