This week, members of New York’s LGBT community and its leaders lashed out at a pair of politicians for broken promises and perceived duplicity. Is this the next wave of LGBT activism? Are we finally getting angry enough not to take it anymore?
A political action committee, Fight Back New York, which was founded in response to the defeat of same-sex marriage in the state’s senate in December, launched its campaign against the 30 Republican and 8 Democratic senators who caused the loss. The group’s one and only aim is to defeat these politicians and to replace them with pro-equality legislators by November. It has identified its first target. As Bill Smith, an adviser to the committee, explained, “Politicians who deny gays and lesbians basic equality should be thrown out of office, starting with convicted criminal Hiram Monserrate.”
Monserrate was expelled by his colleagues earlier this month following his misdemeanor assault conviction. He had promised his support for the gay marriage bill, but voted against it while jockeying for power in Albany. He is currently running in a special election to regain his seat and the new political action committee is ready to spend generously and campaign tenaciously toward his defeat.
Meanwhile, in his quest to become the next junior U.S. senator from New York, Harold Ford Jr. was aggressively booed and heckled during his visit to the Stonewall Democratic Club on Wednesday. The community has been skeptical of the carpetbagger from Tennessee who had voted to ban gay marriage while serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ford was interrupted by chants of “No more lies, no more lies” and “snake-oil Harry, go away.”
Although some may find Ford’s reception lacking in civility and Fight Back New York’s focus on defeating rather than supporting political candidates not the best use of resources, the anger and frustration many of us feel should come as no surprise. In spite of all the support and loyalty the community has given to Democrats who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, progress has been painfully slow and opportunities have been squandered.
Take the ongoing debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” for instance. Why is there even a debate?
Poll after poll after poll has shown that a vast majority of Americans have no problem with gay troops serving openly. The rank and file are aware of brave lesbians, gays and bisexuals fighting by their side. Moreover, a comprehensive new study of militaries that allow openly gay service members concludes that a speedy implementation of a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not be harmful.
Military officials are also coming out in support of Adm. Michael Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ call to finally get rid of the discriminatory and harmful law. The top commanding general in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, has said he believes that everyone — gay and straight — should be allowed to serve in the military “as long as we are still able to fight our wars.” He told reporters Monday that the policy has been a “non-issue” to him.
Nonetheless, many in Congress are still hemming and hawing, purposely delaying any action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Those arguing to take it slow, however, did get support from top Army, Air Force and Marine Corps officers who testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that they are not keen on overturning the 17-year-old law. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey argued that “we just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness.” Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway told lawmakers, “I would encourage your work, mine and that of the working group to be focused on a central issue and that is the readiness of the armed forces of the United States to fight this nation’s wars.” One wonders if their recalcitrance is generational rather than rational; both men are in their sixties.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman did announce, though, that he will sponsor legislation to repeal the ban on lesbian and gay service members. He will be joining Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in advocating for the change in the Senate. He was realistic, however, about the prospects of lifting the ban. On Tuesday, he told reporters, “I’m not kidding myself … of course, I’d like to get it done this year, but it’s going to be hard.” Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ardent opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” shares Lieberman’s doubt, telling reporters that he doesn’t think there are enough votes to end the law this year.
In other news, there has been incremental progress in the fight to enact same-sex marriage. In Minnesota, three bills relating to same-sex unions were heard before the House’s Civil Justice Committee on Monday. One proposal would allow two consenting adults to enter into “civil union contracts,” regardless of their gender. Another would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states as legally valid in Minnesota. And the third — and most far-reaching legislation — would legalize gay marriage by removing gender-based terminology in existing state statute. Although no votes were taken on any of the bills and no additional hearings are scheduled, the conversation has begun.
Also, on Tuesday, Democrats in West Virginia’s House of Delegates shot down Republican attempts to ban same-sex marriage. The following day, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler declared that effective immediately, the state would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and that Maryland agencies should begin affording out-of-state gay couples all the rights they have been awarded in other places. This is good news for same-sex couples who are barred from marriage in Maryland but could easily go to Washington, D.C., beginning next month to get married.
Perhaps we should all take our cue from our sisters and brothers in New York and vent our anger and frustration by actively opposing anti-LGBT politicians and wholeheartedly endorsing and supporting candidates and officials who have a proven track record of working for equality and justice for all Americans.
You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.