The fight against the riders that were in the budget deal on Capitol Hill directly impacts the LGBT community. If we don’t do something about them now, the ones that could follow would be even more disastrous for us.
The LGBT community needs to stand with every other group in the District and say to Congress that we demand legislative and budget autonomy. We are 600,000 strong, as diverse as any city in the nation, and refuse to be treated as just another federal agency where Congress can intervene and micro-manage its affairs. We collect more than $5.5 billion dollars in taxes to fund our local government and need to be able to control that money, not have it controlled by a bunch of Congress members who we don’t elect, in a body in which we don’t even have a vote.
One rider approved in the budget deal on the Hill prevents us from spending our own money so poor women in the District can have the choice on how they want to deal with an unwanted pregnancy even though under D.C. law, as in 17 other states, that choice is legal and should be left to a woman to make.
The second rider foists a voucher program on the District and allocates $100 million over five years to fund that program. The D.C. voucher program experiment as reported by both the Bush and Obama Department’s of Education didn’t make any appreciable difference in a child’s education. These studies complemented others done in Milwaukee and Cincinnati where these voucher programs have also been tried.
For the LGBT community vouchers are even more insidious than just providing no educational benefit and taking $100 million from public education. In the District, more than 90 percent of the children using vouchers go to parochial schools and those parochial schools are overwhelmingly Catholic. These schools are exempt from the Human Rights Act of the District of Columbia.
They are exempt and appropriately so because under the first amendment there is a clear separation of church and state. We cannot force a religious institution to hire or accept gay people or divorced people or handicapped people. They can hire teachers who don’t even have college degrees and teachers who are gay can be fired, gay children or children with gay parents can be denied admittance to the school, and those children who do attend can be indoctrinated with the beliefs of the church that gay people are immoral and sinners.
Since the LGBT community supports the separation of church and state, we must fight against using our public tax dollars to support religious institutions that fight and demonize us as a community and as individuals. Because there has been no legitimate study showing that children using voucher programs benefit academically they can only be viewed as an insidious way to transfer public funds to religious institutions.
But these riders and acquiescence by Congress to make them part of the budget deal may only be the beginning of what we could see in the coming year. There is the real threat by some members of Congress to add a rider to next year’s budget to rollback the right of Gays and Lesbians to marry in DC. Some members of Congress want to add a rider ending needle-exchange, a proven way to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. We can’t even imagine what other dangerous ideas Congress may try to foist on the people of the District as they continue to use us as a petri-dish for experiments they wouldn’t dare try, and couldn’t foist on their own constituents.
So the LGBT community needs to stand with our brothers and sisters in the District and fight for legislative and budget autonomy if we are to prevent more riders, many that could have a devastating and lasting impact on our community.
Join with DC Vote, DC for Democracy, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, ACLU, American Association of University Women, NAACP, NARAL, our public officials and LGBT organizations like GLAA who have already stood up and spoken out. Whether you believe in civil disobedience or simply take the opportunity to speak to your friends on the Hill or the Congresspeople from your home state if you weren’t born in D.C., do it today.
We in the LGBT community are famous for the contacts we have. It is time we used them in this fight. We need to call everyone we know in the White House and there are many and every staff person on the Hill and there are thousands, and make them understand how devastating these riders are to us.
Act now before it is too late.