August 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
More than a dozen local LGBT Dems to attend convention

Lateefah Williams, president of the Stein Club, is one of five openly gay and lesbian D.C. Democrats headed to the party’s national convention. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As Democrats prepare for their party’s upcoming convention in Charlotte, local LGBT delegates stress they look forward to representing the community at the quadrennial gathering.

“I’m excited to be going to the convention and I’m honored to represent D.C. in Charlotte,” said Lateefah Williams, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. She is among the four openly LGBT delegates who will represent the nation’s capital at the Democratic National Convention that will kick-off on Sept. 4. Gay labor activist Gregory Cendana is among them, while Democratic activist David Meadows will serve as an alternate. “My goal is to provide a voice for all D.C. residents, particularly the LGBT community.”

Office of GLBT Affairs director Jeffrey Richardson (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs and the former vice chair of the D.C. Democratic Party, has attended two previous conventions as either a delegate or a volunteer. He told the Blade that this year is different in part because the presumptive nominee is the incumbent president.

“We’ll be focused on how we will unite the party, unite the base to ensure that President Obama gets re-elected,” Richardson said.

Earl Fowlkes, CEO of D.C. Black Pride and a member of the Democratic National Committee, will attend his first convention as a delegate. “I’m glad I’m going with all these people from D.C., which is wonderful,” he said. “I’m really very happy because this administration, this president has been so forthright in his skill in really creating a better environment for the LGBT community. He started slow, but he gained momentum and he’s come full circle and he supports the things that we all support that we believe will make us full citizens of the country.”

Members of Maryland’s LGBT delegation echoed Fowlkes.

“President Obama has stood up for us in so many ways in the face of a very strong and virulent opposition,” said state Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City,) who will attend the Democratic National Convention for the first time. “Now it is time that our community and our allies protect him at the ballot box.”

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Salisbury Mayor James Ireton (Photo courtesy of city of Salisbury)

Gay Salisbury Mayor James Ireton is also a first-time delegate.

“I am excited and proud to be representing the First Congressional District and my hometown, Salisbury, Md., at the Democratic National Convention,” he told the Blade. “I am also proud to be a small part of the diversity that is, in my opinion, one of America’s and Maryland’s greatest strengths.”

In addition to Ireton and Washington, state Dels. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) and Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, transgender activist Dana Beyer and Mitch Case of Ellicott City are also members of Maryland’s LGBT delegation.

Beyer, a member of the convention’s Credentials Committee who is among the 11 openly trans delegates to this year’s convention, told the Blade she feels it remains important for out LGBT people to attend the convention.

“The more of us that exist out there, the better we can do our jobs and lay the groundwork for the next four years,” she said.

Gay Virginia state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is among the four openly LGBT members — Peter Owen of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, Joel McDonald of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee and Edmund Turner of Richmond — of the commonwealth’s convention delegation. He echoed others who pointed out what they maintain is Obama’s pro-LGBT record as president.

“There is no question that the president is 100 percent,” said Ebbin, who is also a member of the Credentials Committee. “Bill Clinton had said some of the right things and appointed some of the right people, but President Clinton did do some things that were regrettable and not acceptable to the community when he was president. We have nothing to apologize for. We have everything to be proud of and we have a president who not just on LGBT issues, but issues in general we can be proud of.”

National Stonewall Democrats data indicates that at least 470 of the 5,963 delegates slated to attend this year’s convention are openly LGBT — nearly double the 277 delegates who attended the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. They will also vote on a proposed platform that includes a same-sex marriage plank.

“This historic act by our party affirms that Democrats and President Barack Obama intend to continue to play a significant role in advancing civil rights for our LGBT community,” Washington said. “This is in stark contrast to that of the national Republican Party, which is clearly set on articulating a platform that seeks to turn back the clock not only for LGBT people, but for women and working and middle class [people] across the country.”

Williams agreed.

“It sends a message that the Democratic Party is inclusive,” she said. “For equality-minded people it does matter to see the party taking a strong stance in support of valuing all families.”

A Harris Interactive poll that Logo TV commissioned earlier this month found that the economy, unemployment and health care rank among LGBT voters’ top concerns going into the presidential election. Nine percent of respondents listed gay rights as their top priority, while only six percent said marriage rights for same-sex couples is the most important issue.

Only one percent of non-LGBT respondents identified gay rights and nuptials for same-sex couples as their top priorities.

Richardson conceded that he feels conservatives could potentially use marriage as what he described as a wedge issue among people of faith and communities of color in specific geographic areas. He stressed, however, that the economy will remain the dominant issue going into November. “The economy is just such a big issue,” Richardson said. “If I don’t have a job, I’m not all that concerned about who you marry.”

Williams was more optimistic.

“I don’t think it’s going to have an adverse effect because a lot of the people who have been strong supporters of President Obama do not support marriage equality still strongly support his ideas and his agenda on other issues,” she said. “I really don’t see those individuals backing away from him on the basis of one issue.”

In the end, local LGBT delegates remain optimistic that Obama will be re-elected in November.

“I think he’s going to win. I know he’s going to win,” Fowlkes said. “Fundamentally, the president’s a decent man, a good man. And his administration has done a good job at keeping this country from falling apart.”

Ebbin agreed.

“When the American people focus on his accomplishments and his role as president and what would have happened if we hadn’t had him, compared to the alternative, I think that people will support the president,” he said, further noting that Obama continues to poll well in Virginia and other battleground states. “That’s something that we’re really proud of, but it’s something that we can’t take for granted.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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