As the 2016 election heats up, the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday unveiled plans to create an advisory body to listen to concerns of LGBT people in each state.
Earl Fowlkes, chair of the DNC LGBT Caucus, said during a conference call with reporters the advisory body will work as a supplement to the DNC’s existing LGBT caucus and LGBT leadership council to give voice to LGBT people.
“We’re launching the LGBT advisory body in order to create two-way conversations between DNC leaders and grassroots activists in every state across the LGBT community,” Fowlkes said.
While the LGBT caucus is made up of DNC members and the LGBT leadership council is made up of financial contributors, Fowlkes said, any individual active in the LGBT community — as long as they identify as a Democrat — will be eligible to take part in the LGBT advisory body.
“We are a party of diversity and inclusion, and we want to make sure that we are eliminating barriers and creating new opportunities to elevate the voices of grassroots leaders on the ground,” Fowlkes said.
Fowlkes said the purpose of the body is two-fold: 1) It will allow the DNC to disseminate information to additional channels and in more communities, and 2) It will allow LGBT leaders from across the country to provide the DNC information on issues that matter to them.
“We have the opportunity to hear about the next HERO, or the next RFRA, before they become national news, and we’ll be able to make sure that not only DNC leaders, but also the LGBT community at large is altered to the critical issues that will affect LGBT voters hitting this election year and beyond,” Fowlkes said. “Whether it’s a small town debating a non-discrimination ordinance or an LGBT candidate for school board, we want to be in the know on what’s impacting our community.”
Fowlkes said the advisory body is also intended to give voice across the spectrum of the LGBT community, especially issues facing LGBT people of color, which he said are too often “not addressed by others in the LGBT community.”
Sean Meloy, the DNC’s LGBT liaison, said during the call the advisory body will ensure the Democrats will “continue to be the best allies they can be” for the LGBT community.
“LGBT people are constantly under attack, and misunderstanding and hate are the vehicles Republicans are using to rally others against our community,” Meloy said. “If a local non-discrimination ordinance is proposed, or repealed, we want to be in the know about it. If a state or locality is on the verge of passing an Indiana-style religious freedom discrimination bill, we want to hear about it.”
Meloy said the body will be divided into four regions, and each region will have a chair. The two national co-chairs of the body, Meloy said, will regularly convene the body. Membership of the body will be in regular contact with the DNC LGBT liaison day-to-day, Meloy said.
At the same time the advisory body is created, Meloy said state parties have set LGBT-inclusion goals among Democrats in the delegates for the upcoming 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which he said will “make this the gayest convention in history.” Members of the LGBT advisory body, Meloy said, will help amplify those efforts.
Those interested in applying to take part in the advisory body are asked to submit an application at my.democrats.org/lgbt-advisory-body.
Prior to the conference call, Meloy told the Washington Blade the concept of the advisory body has been under discussion since he joined the DNC a few months ago and gained fuel during the DNC summer meeting in Minneapolis.
“After talking to a lot of different groups and talking to the caucus in Minnesota, they thought this was a good idea,” Meloy said.
In response to a question on the timeline for getting the body operational, Meloy said the DNC will screen the applications over the course of the month and applicants will receive a response before Jan. 15. Although Meloy said the basis of the body is evolving, the DNC said it hopes to have the operation up and running by the end of January.
“We’re looking for grassroots activists from every single state of every stripe and every color,” Meloy said. “We want to make sure that this a diverse body that effectively represents the LGBT community. Of course, they identify as Democrats.”
On the call, when Buzzfeed asked what action the DNC will undertake for LGBT advocacy, Fowlkes said having knowledge “early in the game” from the advisory body will help guide the way. In the event the DNC believes it can lend a hand in these battles, Fowlkes said the organization will “harness the resources we have available to us.”
Asked on the conference call by BiNet USA about the extent to which bisexual and transgender people and issues will be represented on the body, Fowlkes said there’s “no pre-set agenda,” but that area is important to the DNC.
“We don’t have any numbers saying we want a certain percent of this, or certain percentage that,” Fowkles said. “We want people who are active Democrats who represent their communities, who can contribute to the greater whole by their suggestions and their work because we know if we’re going to win elections, we’re going to need to have all hands on deck — and that includes all parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”