July 24, 2016 at 11:46 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
DNC chair resigns, expanded party’s LGBT apparatus
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz leaves a pro-LGBT legacy at the Democratic National Committee. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Following controversy after an email dump revealing the Democratic National Committee favored Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday she would resign and have a limited role during the convention this week.

“Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as party chair at the end of this convention,” Wasserman Schultz said. “As party chair, this week I will open and close the convention and I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans. We have planned a great and unified convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had.”

Following Wassserman Schultz’s resignation, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile will take on the role of interim Democratic National Committee chair after the convention concludes.

Wassserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District in the U.S. House, was found in the email dump published by Wikileaks to have favored Clinton in the primary over Bernie Sanders, even though the role of the DNC chair is to remain neutral in the contest.

One email shows the party’s finance chair suggesting the DNC propagate media stories indicating Sanders is an atheist during primaries in the religiously conservative states of Kentucky and West Virginia. Others showed Wasserman Schultz criticizing Sanders for not being a Democrat and saying he would never be president.

Hackers working for the Russian government apparently stole the emails and gave them to Wikileaks. Clinton officials have said the effort was an attempt to incite Sanders supporters and help elect Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

According to NBC News, opposition to Wasserman Schultz among Democrats “spread like wildfire,” according to a Democratic source. The discontent resulted in a confrontation Sunday when officials told Wasserman Schultz she had to resign.

Sanders said in a statement Wasserman Schultz “made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” but indicated the primary process was unfair.

“While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people,” Sanders said. “The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Over the course of her tenure at the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz oversaw significant expansion in the Democratic Party’s apparatus in LGBT inclusion.

Just a few weeks ago, the 2016 Democratic platform committee produced a document called the most LGBT-inclusive platform ever. Among other things, the document — set for ratification this week at the Democratic National Convention — embraces the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, endorses LGBT comprehensive non-discrimination legislation and includes a plank calling for the United States to make LGBT rights a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

In 2012, the Democratic National Committee under Wasserman Schultz after a hard-fought campaign agreed for the first-time ever to include support for same-sex marriage as part of its platform. That platform also rejected the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and endorsed a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Although Wasserman Schultz has no direct involvement with the platform committee, the pro-LGBT changes took place under her tenure and she was responsible for appointing committee members.

Also in 2012, the Democratic National Convention had more than 550 openly LGBT delegates, the greatest number in history, and at least one LGBT delegate from every state. The Democratic National Committee hasn’t yet announced the number for 2016, although LGBT caucus chair Earl Fowlkes, Jr., set a goal for an even bigger number.

In 2014, Wasserman Schultz announced the creation of the Lesbian Leadership Council to give voice to that segment of the LGBT community during a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT caucus. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the lesbian leadership council was extant at the time of this posting.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time.

Late last year, the Democratic National Committee under Wasserman Schultz created an LGBT advisory body intended to supplement to the DNC’s existing LGBT caucus and LGBT leadership council to create “two-way conversations” between DNC leaders and grassroots activists. DNC LGBT liaison Sean Meloy manages the advisory board.

One blemish on her record on LGBT rights was when Paul Yandura, a gay Democratic activist who has often come to blows with the Democratic National Committee and sued the organization, said Wasserman Schultz sought on the House floor to dissuade members of Congress from signing a letter calling on President Obama to sign an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. At the time, a Wasserman Schultz spokesperson called the assertion a “bald-faced lie.”

As a member of Congress, Wasserman Schultz consistently has scored “100” on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecards. The lawmaker has cast votes in favor of hate crimes protections, a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

A supporter of same-sex marriage, Wasserman Schultz became the first voting member of Congress to officiate a same-sex wedding in 2015 after a federal court struck down her state’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. The couple was Robert Wolfarth and Alex Fernandez of south Florida.

Along with Democratic colleagues, Wasserman Schultz has signed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage and strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. Earlier this year, Wasserman Schultz invited Jeff and Todd Delmay, one of the same-sex couples in the Florida marriage lawsuit, to come as her guests to the State of the Union address.

Wasserman Schultz is a co-sponsor of the comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act, but she’s not a co-sponsor of the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which seeks to bar widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy nationwide.

Additionally, Wasserman Schultz recently signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals to find sexual-orientation discrimination constitutes gender discrimination under current law. In the aftermath of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the lawmaker also signed a letter urging the Obama administration to eliminate the one-year requirement of abstinence for gay men to donate blood.

In an op-ed for the Washington Blade in 2015 celebrating June as Pride month, Wasserman Schultz said “there’s never been more to celebrate” at Pride, but more work remains.

“There are many places around the world where people are still subjected to violence and discrimination based on who they are or who they love, particularly for the transgender community,” Wasserman Schultz wrote. “Even here at home, we’ve failed to enact protections like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In just a few weeks, the Supreme Court will issue a decision on whether same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide. This June, as we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, the LGBT community and its allies are proud to look back on the victories we’ve achieved, and rededicate ourselves to the fights still ahead.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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