LGBT Caucus At Democratic National Convention Is The Happiest

Michelle Halpain, a volunteer with President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, joins fellow democrats marching in San Fran
Michelle Halpain, a volunteer with President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, joins fellow democrats marching in San Francisco's 42nd annual gay pride parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012. Organizers say more than 200 floats, vehicles and groups of marchers will take part in the parade. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Plenty of people are excited to be at this year's Democratic National Convention. But one group stands out as the happiest caucus of all: the LGBT Caucus.

"Oh, no doubt about it," said Sally Phillips, a lesbian delegate from Florida decked out in Obama campaign gear.

"We've got a lot to celebrate. I mean, my gosh, I was a delegate in 2008 and we had a hard time filling the room up. And look at it now," she said, standing alongside her partner of 24 years, Ercilia Albistu. "I mean, I just got chills."

Indeed, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community have plenty to celebrate. In the last four years, President Barack Obama has arguably handed them more wins than he has to any other faction of Democrats. He repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' expanded hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender, and made more than 30 policy changes that affect LGBT people on immigration, health care, foreign policy, housing and job discrimination. Most recently, he endorsed same-sex marriage.

On top of that, the LGBT caucus has added 200 members since 2008, putting its total at around 550. And, for the first time, the Democratic Party platform includes marriage equality.

"Of course it is," Evan Giesemann, a 22-year-old gay delegate from Wisconsin, said of the caucus being the most excited group of people in the building.

"It's hard to overlook what he's done for LGBT folks," Giesemann said, noting his excitement at being at his first Democratic convention. "Symbolically, having a president coming out in favor of gay marriage is powerful."

Attendees could hardly control their glee when the LGBT Caucus first met on Tuesday. Speeches were frequently interrupted by cheers, and some in the audience were crying as speakers ticked off successes under Obama. White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett was greeted with a hero's welcome -– and honored with an award -- when she dropped by.

"Don't make me cry, I just put my makeup on," Jarrrett said during brief remarks. "You are all the energy we need!"

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, one of four openly gay members of Congress and now a Senate candidate, also addressed the group. She laughed when asked later if LGBT delegates had more to celebrate than others.

"I haven't compared yet, but the laughter and the applause coming out of that hall was pretty impressive," Baldwin said.

Some LGBT convention attendees said they were happy about what Obama has done for their community, but said everyone at the convention has something to celebrate.

"I think he's done a lot of other things than just help LGBT people," said Neil, a 61-year-old delegate from Hawaii with a rainbow lei around this neck. "I think the caucus is pretty happy, they're very encouraged. But they're also very worried. They know certainly it can be turned back" if Obama loses.

Janice Covington, the first transgender delegate from North Carolina, said she doesn't feel at all like Obama has given special treatment to the community.

"The president is treating us just like everybody else," Covington said. "If somebody felt like they haven't been issued the same amount of potatoes on their plate, it's their problem. You know?"

Covington said she is doing her part to highlight the LGBT presence at this year's convention: she teamed up with "a couple of friends who are drag queens" and put on a show for delegates on Monday night. HuffPost saw the photos, so she wasn't bluffing.

"We had fun," she said.

All of the LGBT delegates that HuffPost talked to said there are plenty of things that they want Obama to do. Some cited the need to pass employment nondiscrimination legislation and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Others called for a continued focus on bullying of LGBT youth.

Tom Ammiano, an openly gay California State Assembly member, said the president needs to do more to advance medical marijuana, an issue he said is important to those in the gay community with HIV/AIDS.

"Right now, there's a big kind of jihad against medical marijuana in California. And frankly, it sucks," Ammiano said. "That's where medical marijuana awareness came out of: our community. So it's an issue that's important to us."

Still, Ammiano, who is 70 and has been active in politics for decades, said he felt an "infectious" excitement during the caucus meeting.

"I think ... you're a pretty happy camper" in the LGBT Caucus, he said. "I saw so many young people. I'm thrilled about that."

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