The year 2009 was a mixed bag. It started out great, fizzled quickly but then came back as the year went on. There were highlights and lowlights and we need to remember them all if we are to accurately sum up the year and the decade.
We celebrated a court-mandated marriage equality win in Iowa and a legislative victory in Maine. Then we lost a Maine ballot initiative. We lost in New York, but won in D.C. We now need to be vigilant to ensure we don’t lose that gain. President Obama had a rocky beginning with the LGBT community.
First there was the Rick Warren fiasco, then that ugly Justice Department brief on DOMA. But he came roaring back with the appointment of John Berry at the Office of Personnel Management, the second DOMA brief, movement on giving some benefits to domestic partners of federal workers and finally the signing at the White House of hate crimes legislation. Maybe that came just in time as hate crimes against the LGBT community are on the rise across the nation.
With five states now having legalized marriage equality and some movement on the Hill on upcoming legislative initiatives, 2009 has to be seen as a positive year for the LGBT community.
As we look to 2010, many are asking what we can expect. I think we could have a good year. I think we can pass the bill giving domestic partners of federal employees health care benefits. I also think that we have a real chance of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by handling it the same way we did hate crimes and attaching it to the DOD authorization bill. I am less sanguine about passing ENDA, at least a fully inclusive bill, but think that could happen as well. We do know that rescinding DOMA won’t happen this year.
But 2010 will be especially important in preparing for the future. The Democrats will surely lose seats in both the House and Senate. We will have to work hard to hold those numbers down and ensure that the next Congress won’t move us backwards.
My reading of the country is that we are in a transition period. We are not ready to move back to the place where moral issues dominated elections, but we could end up with more conservatives winning on pocketbook issues. I rarely agree with Newt Gingrich, but he recently said something I do agree with. He talked about Republicans needing to do more than just saying “no” to have an overwhelming victory in the 2010 congressional elections. I hope that they don’t get their act together to do that. But as long as the unemployment rate hovers at around 10 percent and if health care reform passes in the way it looks like it will with the new taxes coming first and the benefits of the bill not taking effect until 2013 or 2014, then Democrats could be in trouble. And if Democrats are in trouble, then the LGBT community will suffer. So 2010 may represent our last hope for a while to make real progress in Congress.
We need to activate our community to lobby their representatives at home and remind them that we vote and are willing to work for politicians who support us. We also need to elect more of our own. It is clear to see the impact that Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and Jared Polis have by just being at the table. We need more people like us at the table.
I think we can do that. We must encourage young members of the LGBT community to get and stay involved. We need to encourage and support involved members of our community to run for office at all levels of government. We have to support organizations like HRC, the Victory Fund, and the Task Force even if we don’t agree with everything they do, because they are the groups that help bring our message to the broader community.
We need to unite as a community and stop criticizing each other at every turn and recognize that each of us has a role to play and that role may be different for each person and each organization. Whether it is joining a march on the statehouse, donating money to an organization or candidate, volunteering for a candidate or cause, all are critical. Each person who is willing to use their particular talent to be a part of the future will together help make that future better for us all.
If we continue to work and to value each other, 2010 will be a year in which we will celebrate continued progress in our fight for equality as we move into the next decade.
Peter Rosenstein is a D.C.-based LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.