June 16, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
NETROOTS: Bloggers, activists discuss LGBT issues at pre-conference

MINNEAPOLIS — More complete representation of the LGBT people in the media and greater attention to transgender issues were among the issues bloggers and activists discussed on Wednesday during an LGBT pre-conference for the annual Netroots Nation convention.

About 115 activists and bloggers were registered for the pre-conference — organized by gay D.C. blogger Mike Rogers — to facilitate greater cooperation for shared goals in the LGBT movement.

During an opening session of pre-conference, LGBT bloggers and activists aired concerns and made observations about issues that they felt weren’t receiving enough national attention.

* Pam Spaulding, lesbian blogger for Pam’s House Blend, said too much national attention is focused on advancing marriage rights in states where they don’t exist or retaining marriage equality in states where it may be taken away.

Meanwhile other states, such as North Carolina and Minnesota, face the possibility of passing marriage amendments even though they have statutes prohibiting same-sex marriage. Minnesota voters face a ballot measure in 2012 and North Carolina will also likely face one in 2012.

“I’ve heard people say that it’s a lost cause to do anything in the South, but North Carolina staved off an amendment six times in a row,” Spaulding said. “So, I think that there is a lot of … people who have ‘blue’ state protections who ignore places where there’s a lot of activism going on and the distinct possibility that we could stave this off.”

* Jillian Weiss, a transgender blogger for the Bilerico Project, urged for greater emphasis on transgender inclusion. Even for LGBT issues that primarily affect gay, lesbian and bisexual people, Weiss said there should an effort to show how the issue affects transgender people.

“To use a prime example is ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ where [we're] concentrated specifically on gay and lesbian soldiers, which is definitely very important, and I’m behind that 100 percent, but very few people talk about the fact that it’s leaving transgender and transsexual veterans behind,” Weiss said. “If we don’t speak about these other portions of the community, they get completely lost.”

* Daniel Villarreal, a gay blogger for Queerty, said greater pressure should be placed on media to include representation for all parts of the LGBT community, including LGBT people of color.

“GLAAD just released a report that looks mainly at cable and networks’ depictions of queer people,” Villarreal said. “The number of bisexual, lesbian and transgender people are incredibly low, depressing low. Not only that, the numbers of minorities are incredibly low.”

Villarreal said all media — even LGBT media — should be “taken to task” for not accurately representing the LGBT community as a whole.

“The only time I ever see a black guy outside of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo is in an HIV commercial, and that’s pretty fucking sad,” Villarreal said.

* Felipe Matos, a gay Miami-based strategist, said more attention should focused on the pressures LGBT immigrant youths face. Matos said after coming out, LGBT immigrant youths are often ostracized from their communities, and, if they’re undocumented, could be apprehended by the police and deported.

“When you come out, many times you are, in your community and outside your community, you are hurt and then you don’t have any recourse [or] anyone to go to because you are afraid the police is going to deport you,” Matos said.

As part of his work with an youth group in Florida, Matos said these situations happen “over and over again.” LGBT youths, he said, are afraid to talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of being cast aside and potentially deported.

* Christopher Edwards, communications manager for Immigration Equality, said there should be greater emphasis on the impacts that state immigration laws have on LGBT people. Pending legislation in Utah, Edwards said, would increase the penalty for harboring undocumented immigrants and prevent bi-national couples from staying together in the state.

“A lot of bi-national families include a partner who is undocumented, so you could basically be arrested for living with your partner,” Edwards said.

Edwards also said his organization is having “a horrible time” convincing Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign spouses for residency in the United States.

* Zack Ford, a gay blogger with Think Progress, said activists should devise a better way to present the sexuality of LGBT people as more mainstream. In the fight for same-sex marriage, Ford said LGBT people have moved away from presenting themselves as sexual beings.

“We’ve hidden our sexuality from the mainstream world, but I think as long as that ick factor works against us, we need to find ways to show we’re not just people that deserve to be married, but whole, healthy, happy human beings,” Ford said. “I think finding some better approaches to talking about queer sexuality in a positive, affirmative way will be very helpful.”

* Jeremy Hooper, the gay blogger for Good as You, said LGBT activists could do better with the way they talk about same-sex marriage and how it wouldn’t impact religious freedom.

“From my experience, LGBT people and progressives are better at understanding true religious freedom than the opposition, yet we let them work the idea that we’re seeking something more … than [what] we deserve,” Hooper said. “We don’t want churches to marry us. We’re not asking for that. What we’re seeking is civil marriage.”

Several breakouts sessions followed the opening sessions of the LGBT pre-conference and hit on topics including the intersection of immigration and LGBT issues as well as fitting the fight for same-sex marriage into the broader LGBT movement.

For the immigration session, activists working for passage of the DREAM Act, an immigration bill that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for young, undocumented youths, called on the LGBT community for greater supporter.

* Tania Unzueta, advocacy co-ordinator for the Association of Latino Men for Action’s LGBTQ Immigration Rights Project, said LGBT rights supporters should have been made last year when Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but against the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“There really wasn’t anything from the LGBT community that was like, ‘This was bad,’” Unzueta said. “It was always, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

Unzueta said her organization has been devising ways to change the discussion on LGBT issues and immigration issues to demonstrate that they are, in fact, both part of the larger struggle for human rights.

In the marriage session, activists and bloggers talked about whether the fight for same-sex marriage had become too much of a priority for the LGBT community and making other issues secondary.

* Andy Szekeres, a gay activist and progressive political consultant, said the fundraising that groups undertake to win same-sex marriage can be used for the fights to win other battles.

“Marriage is where the money is,” Szekeres said. “Look at the trans groups, look at the adoption groups, look at the immigration groups. The marriage world is 10-1 fundraising over them, so we need to figure out a way to sort of spread the wealth.”

* Carisa Cunningham, director of public affairs and education for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the fight for marriage came about to address fundamental issues facing the LGBT community.

“I think the question of whether it’s strategic is kind of neither here nor there,” Cunningham said. “It’s here because we went through the AIDS epidemic and gay men found that at the end of their lives, they could not have their partners come and see them in the hospital [or] make medical decisions for them. Gsy men found that they could not have any say over their partner’s bodies when they died and their partner’s families could come, swoop in and take everything away.”

Cunningham continued, “The other thing was the lesbian baby boom. Women were leaving straight marriages and finding out that they had no rights vis-a-vis their children or they were creating families with their partners and finding again that rights that come to you vis-a-vis your children automatically by marriage have to fought for. There is a real sense that the marriage movement has demand-driven; it has been driven by the bottom up.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article underestimated the number of attendees at the LGBT pre-conference. The Washington Blade regrets the error.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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