February 25, 2015 at 3:00 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
DNC LGBT Caucus maps plans for 2016
DNC LGBT Caucus, Earl Fowlkes, gay news, Washington Blade

DNC LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes said he would like to see 500 LGBT Democrats selected as delegates to the 2016 convention. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

Members of the Democratic National Committee’s 36-member LGBT Caucus met in Washington on Feb. 21 to discuss plans for LGBT involvement in next year’s presidential election, including efforts to help elect LGBT delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

The caucus met on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.

“It was a good meeting,” said LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes, who also serves as president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political group.

“We talked about issues of diversity,” Fowlkes said. “We talked about the convention. We talked about delegate selection. I think these are all very important issues for the caucus to consider.”

Others attending the meeting, including gay DNC member Rick Stafford, the LGBT Caucus’s former chair, said the caucus will have to step in to do much of the delegate selection organizing that the National Stonewall Democrats did for the 2012 Democratic Convention.

NSD, an LGBT Democratic Party organization, was founded in 1998 by gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). It ceased operating in January 2013 because of a budget shortfall and an inability to raise sufficient funds to stay in business.

Officials with the group said at the time they expected the shutdown or “hiatus” to be temporary and they were hopeful the group would resume operations the following year.

But that never happened, and Fowlkes told the Washington Blade following the LGBT Caucus meeting on Feb. 21 that he saw no signs of NSD coming back in time for the start of the planning process for delegate selection this year and early next year.

“That means this caucus will really have to step up to the plate in terms of finding LGBT delegates,” Stafford told fellow caucus members.

DNC official Regina Thomas told the caucus meeting that the DNC has approved hiring a director of the DNC LGBT Outreach Desk. The position has remained unfilled since September 2013, when gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned to take a job as White House liaison to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Thomas said a large number of enthusiastic applicants have submitted resumes for the job but she said most don’t have the type of campaign experience needed for the position. She urged LGBT Caucus members to invite others to apply for the post.

During an LGBT Caucus meeting in Washington last March, caucus members and LGBT Democratic activists urged the DNC to fill the position in time for the 2014 congressional mid-term elections.

With the National Stonewall Democrats out of the picture, the caucus members and activists said the outreach desk director was needed to help as many as 100 local and state LGBT Democratic Clubs coordinate LGBT get-out-the-vote efforts to help elect and re-elect Democrats to Congress.

DNC Regional Press Secretary Ian Sams said at the time that he and others in the DNC’s communications division would conduct LGBT outreach work until a replacement for Marootian was hired.

Democrats took a beating in the 2014 mid-term elections, losing control of the Senate and seeing their numbers decrease in the House, where they already were in the minority.

Amy Stacey, the DNC’s chief executive officer, told LGBT Caucus members at the Feb. 21 meeting that the party will need the help of all of its diverse constituencies, including LGBT Democrats, to help elect a Democrat to the White House in 2016. Stacey is the former head of Emily’s List, a national group that helps elect women to public office.

“We are up against history,” she said in noting that it has been difficult for Democrats or Republicans to win a presidential election after a member of their respective party, like President Obama, served two consecutive terms in office.

Fowlkes called on the LGBT Caucus to approve plans for a meeting in Washington in June of LGBT state party caucus members, representatives of LGBT Democratic clubs throughout the country, and DNC LGBT Caucus members. He said the meeting, among other things, would kick off the 2016 election organizing work that National Stonewall Democrats would be expected to do if it were still in business.

“We will first of all convene to reconnect them to the national party because there is no vehicle to do that with the National Stonewall Democrats being in hiatus,” he said.

Fowlkes said the meeting would also provide an opportunity for party leaders and others to provide local LGBT Democratic activists with information to help strengthen their respective clubs and become more diverse; and to brief them on the complex delegate selection process. Fowlkes and other caucus members said their goal is to increase the number of LGBT delegates at the 2016 Democratic Convention, which will be held in Philadelphia.

At the start of the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., then National Stonewall Democrats director Jerame Davis announced that more than 530 LGBT participants would be attending the convention, with 486 attending as delegates and the others participating as alternate delegates and convention standing committee members.

Fowlkes said he would like to see at least 500 or more LGBT Democrats selected as delegates to the 2016 convention. He said the process for doing that could be more difficult because there will be fewer delegates at the 2016 convention then there were at the 2012 convention.

A DNC spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached to confirm how many fewer delegates will be picked for the 2016 convention and why the DNC decided to lower the number.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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