CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Democratic National Convention’s LGBT Caucus was courted by high-level Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and Democratic Party luminaries on Thursday in its second of two meetings during the week of the convention.
Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden; Jim Messina, chair of the Obama re-election campaign; Hilda Solis, the U.S. Secretary of Labor; and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic Party, urged caucus members to help energize the Obama base — voters who support the president but who may need some prodding and reminders to turn out to the polls in November.
“I want you to know how much Joe and I and Barack and Michelle appreciate all that you are doing for this campaign all across this country,” Biden told the more than 500 LGBT delegates, alternate delegates and convention committee members who make up the LGBT Caucus.
“So much is at stake in this election. You know that, and especially for the LGBT community,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure we keep moving forward on gay rights so that we can continue the progress we’ve made.”
She added, “We have the first president and vice president in history to affirm support for gay marriage. Joe and Barack believe that no matter who you love everyone should have the same rights in this country.”
Messina, who served as White House Chief of Staff for Operations from 2009 to 2011 before heading the Obama re-election campaign, noted that he and gay White House aide Brian Bond worked closely together to push for passage of a federal hate crime law that includes gays and transgender people and for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that prohibited gays from serving openly in the military.
“I’m so proud to be part of this effort,” he said. “You have a president who stands for justice, fairness and equality.”
In a gesture that drew laughter and applause, Messina told LGBT Caucus members, “I just need two things from you in the next 61 days — all your time and all your money.”
Solis disputed claims by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that the U.S. economy remains stalled, saying large numbers of private sector jobs have been created during the president’s tenure in office.
Similar to Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services who spoke to the LGBT Caucus on Tuesday, Solis listed what she called the Obama administration’s unprecedented number of executive branch initiatives on LGBT rights, including a ban on employment discrimination against transgender people in the federal workforce.
Like Sebelius, she said a Romney presidency would likely roll back most if not all of those advances.
Gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who spoke before the full convention later in the day on Thursday, created a stir among leaders of the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans when he repeated to LGBT Caucus members a remark he made about Log Cabin in a radio interview earlier in the day with gay talk show host Michelangelo Signorile.
In the interview, Frank criticized Log Cabin for continuing to support Republican members of Congress who oppose LGBT rights legislation.
“For 20 years now I’ve heard Log Cabins say they were going to make Republicans better, but they’ve only gotten worse. I now realize why they call themselves Log Cabin: Their role model is Uncle Tom.”
Log Cabin President R. Clarke Cooper issued a statement denouncing Frank for hurling “bile” at gay Republicans in an effort to “demonize them.” Cooper noted that Log Cabin filed a lawsuit seeking to have “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” overturned by a court on constitutional grounds. He said the group worked with Republican members of Congress to line up Republican votes that made it possible to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“As far as Log Cabin Republicans are concerned, it’s a badge of honor to be attacked by a partisan hack like Barney Frank,” Cooper said.
Frank couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Cooper’s statement.
During his remarks before the LGBT Caucus, Frank said he understood and respected Log Cabin members who say they support the Republican Party and many of its leaders because they agree with them on non-LGBT issues like national defense and economic policy.
But Frank said the Republican Party’s overall positions on LGBT issues have gotten worse over recent years and he was troubled that Log Cabin members appear to be rationalizing assertions that the party’s stance on LGBT issues is improving.
Other speakers at the Thursday’s LGBT Caucus meeting included Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker; Delaware Gov. Jack Markell; U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats from Minnesota; and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Doug Wilson.
Wilson, who is gay, invited LGBT caucus members who are veterans or members of the military to join him on the stage where he spoke. More than 30 caucus members walked on stage, drawing a loud, prolonged applause from the audience.
He then told of his experience meeting U.S. troops at Fort Hood, an Army base, in an effort to determine how active duty military members would react if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were repealed.
According to Wilson, the head of the base arranged for him to meet and speak with five solders assigned to an Army tank, where some military officials believed it would be difficult for an out gay soldier to work “in close quarters” with straight soldiers.
Wilson said he asked the four men assigned to the tank how they would react if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed and they find out one of their compatriots assigned to the tank is gay.
“The first one said my brother is gay. And the second one said my cousin is gay,” Wilson told the caucus meeting. “The third one said I have all kinds of gay friends from high school and it doesn’t matter to me. And the fifth one said if this tank is burning I want someone to pull me out of there and I don’t care if they’re gay or straight.”
Wilson said stories like that were what convinced most U.S. military leaders and a majority of members of Congress to pass legislation repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He credited President Obama with setting in motion the chain of events that eventually led to the repeal.