The Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Americans Caucus is giving high marks to President Obama and the Democratic Party’s efforts to advance LGBT rights over the past year, caucus members said this week.
Veteran Democratic activist Rick Stafford of Minnesota, who chairs the LGBT Caucus, said members at the Feb. 5 meeting were impressed with DNC Chair Timothy Kaine, a former Virginia governor, and gay White House official Brian Bond. Both addressed the LGBT Caucus during the DNC’s annual winter meeting.
Stafford told DC Agenda that Kaine “talked about the achievements, but he also talked about the frustration he knows our community has on some issues, with the lack of forward progress.”
“He hears that and he wants the community to know he hears that,” Stafford said. “But he also talked about the accomplishments the administration has made on our issues, and many of us believe they are very important.”
Stafford said Bond, who serves as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, outlined “a litany of impressive achievements” by the Obama administration on gay-related issues. He noted that Bond also acknowledged concern among many LGBT supporters that Congress has been slow to pass several gay-related bills.
Kaine also talked about “the importance of the 2010 elections so that we don’t slide back,” Stafford said. He noted that Kaine told the caucus “the national party is committed in terms of the outreach to our community and to highlight the issues and the achievements that we have made in this administration for our community and where we need to go forward.”
Meetings of the 25-member LGBT Americans Caucus come at a time when some LGBT activists have called for a boycott of DNC fundraisers. The activists, led by longtime gay Democratic activist and fundraiser David Mixner and gay blogger John Aravosis, have said the boycott is aimed at pressuring the DNC and the administration to more aggressively push the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass several LGBT-related bills.
Mixner and Aravosis have said the boycott should be limited to the DNC and that people should continue to contribute money to individual Democratic candidates who are supportive on LGBT issues.
Among the bills that Mixner and Aravosis want Congress to pass is the long stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, which would bar job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Other congressional action sought by activists is repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law preventing gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the military, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars legally married same-sex couples from receiving nearly 1,200 federal rights and benefits associated with marriage.
“What we are saying is people should absolutely hold off on their donations until the party comes through on their promises, and then continue supporting them,” Aravosis said. “But currently they’re not coming through.”
LGBT Caucus members Earl Fowlkes of Washington, D.C., who supported Obama’s presidential campaign, and Heather Mizeur, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, joined Stafford in strongly opposing the boycott. The three said withholding contributions to the DNC would hurt efforts to elect LGBT-supportive Democratic candidates to Congress and state legislatures.
Also expressing opposition to the boycott was Barbara Siperstein, president of Stonewall Democrats of New Jersey and the first openly transgender person to be named to the DNC.
“I share, from my own experience, the frustration they’re talking about,” Siperstein told DC Agenda. “But very honestly, I disagree with a strategy of boycotting the DNC. I can only see it as unsuccessful for our community. It can only help the Republicans.”
Siperstein, Fowlkes and Mizeur each said the Democratic leaders in Congress and most congressional Democrats strongly support the LGBT-related bills in question. They note that a small group of moderate and conservative Democrats have so far withheld support for some or all of these bills. And with nearly all congressional Republicans opposed to the bills, supporters have been unable to line up the votes needed to pass the LGBT bills, the three said.
“You can’t blame the party or the president for that,” said Siperstein.
Mizeur, whose Maryland district includes the largely Democratic and suburban Montgomery County, said she’s “never been for a boycott.”
“But I think that our contributions should come with some strings attached, if you will,” she said. “They need to come along with conversations about how ‘I am an LGBT American who is investing in this party and this money I want to see goes toward an agenda that includes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [repeal] and marriage equality,’ and you go down the list.”
Aravosis, however, said the approach suggested by Mizeur and other DNC supporters doesn’t appear to have worked.
He said the national party angered many LGBT Democrats in November when it remained silent during a heated campaign in Maine over a ballot measure that struck down same-sex marriage in the state.
DNC-sponsored phone canvassers reminded Maine residents to vote, but made no mention of the anti-gay ballot measure. And the canvassers urged Maine political activists to participate in an operation urging New Jersey voters to support the failed re-election bid of Democratic Gov. John Corzine.
Aravosis called the development “outrageous,” noting that the DNC effectively ignored an anti-gay campaign in Maine while asking Democrats in Maine to get involved in a New Jersey race.
“The point isn’t to stop helping New Jersey,” said Aravosis. “The point is we don’t want them to keep avoiding gay issues. And that’s what they did.”
Stafford said DNC officials have acknowledged that “miscommunication” between the DNC and the Maine Democratic Party resulted in the national party apparatus not providing resources to help defeat the ballot measure. The state party in Maine strongly opposed the ballot measure.
The Maine flap prompted several members of the LGBT Americans Caucus and non-gay supporters to introduce a resolution at the DNC meeting last week to address this problem, Stafford and other caucus members said. The resolution, which the full DNC approved, requires the DNC and its grassroots arm, Organizing for America, to follow the lead of state parties on a wide range of issues, including state ballot measures.
Fowlkes, who has been active in organizing black LGBT Pride events in D.C. and other cities, said the Obama administration has come up short only in failing to communicate as well as it could its “extensive” record of support for LGBT issues during its first year in office.
“A lot of the focus of the LGBT community has been misplaced in blaming Obama and putting pressure only on Obama,” Fowlkes said. “But what we also have to understand is that there are moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats [in Congress]. Some of those people have to be brought along, and that’s where the LGBT community can be putting pressure on those people to make them come along with the administration and vote the correct way.”