Friday, February 09, 2007

"Democrats pledge to push gay bills"

Washington Blade:
Democratic leaders are pledging to push at least two bills this year in Congress that would enact new civil rights and protections for gays.

During the Democratic National Committee’s annual winter meeting Feb. 2 in Washington, party officials said congressional leaders will act this spring to pass a federal hate crimes bill that includes crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

A trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act is expected to follow this fall, officials said.

The projected timetable was revealed at the same gay caucus meeting where DNC Chair Howard Dean thanked the party’s gay supporters for their contributions toward the Democratic victories in November.
“[W]e were able to make some real gains, and I think it’s going to show up in this Congress,” he said. “Because I believe that after we do the 100 hours and after we disapprove of the president’s behavior in Iraq, that we will, finally, and I absolutely am going to do everything in my power to ask Congress to take up, finally, and pass ENDA.”

Bill Murat, chief of staff to lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), said lawmakers plan to push the hate crimes bill first, though, because Congress took action on it last session.

“We have taken a vote on that issue and that is the one that the leadership in both the House and the Senate identified as the most appropriate first vehicle to take steps forward — substantive steps forward — for our community,” he said. “And they’re committed to moving that legislation this spring.”

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would authorize the federal government to prosecute hate crimes based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. An earlier version of the bill died in conference committee because differences between House and Senate versions could not be reconciled.

Murat, who spoke at the caucus meeting about several gay initiatives, said Democrats plan to push ENDA “sometime this fall.” He noted that public opinion “overwhelmingly” supports the bill.

“But that does not mean that it will be easy to move this legislation through both houses of Congress, and to get it to the president in a posture where the pressure will be for him to sign this legislation,” he said.

“It behooves all of us to be out — educating the public, educating members of Congress, using the media that we have access to — to be able to put a human face on that issue by telling stories that are compelling to every American.”

Murat said hearings on other gay initiatives, such as a repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, are forthcoming. He told meeting attendants they could “expect to see” a hearing on that and other issues, but did not specify when those hearings would occur.

Dean rebuked from left, right

Dean, in comments to the crowded gay caucus meeting, said he would gladly aid the process.

“I’m very comfortable going to Utah and explaining why you shouldn’t be fired if you happen to be a gay person, or a lesbian, or transgender or bisexual,” he said. “And transgender is part of this, too. You don’t stop, of course, without that.”

Dean was repeatedly applauded during the six minutes he spoke to the gay caucus, but not all of his comments were well received.

Dean noted at one point that he lacked “exit poll figures” for gay voters. Donald Hitchcock, a former director of the DNC’s Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council whom Dean fired last year following policy disagreements on gay issues, said after the meeting that exit polls from 2006 show 80 percent of gay voters voted Democratic.

“Obviously, either his staff still does not have access to brief him on our issues, or he is not listening,” Hitchcock said in a prepared statement. “I wonder if he would address any other constituency group not knowing this basic information.”

Dean also drew a heated response from the Log Cabin Republicans after calling the organization’s gay members “an endangered minority.”

Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon said the organization is stronger than ever.

“Howard Dean’s decision to attack gay Republicans is just the latest in a long line of embarrassing episodes for the DNC chair,” Sammon said. “More than one out of every four gay and lesbian people are Republican. No amount of lip service or screaming from Howard Dean will change that.”

Caucus officials, meanwhile, advanced plans to push for more gay delegates at next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Caucus Chair Rick Stafford said DNC officials support gay Democrats’ plans to work with leaders of state parties — including those in traditionally conservative states — to include gays in their delegate selection plans.

The plans call for each state to set as a voluntary goal a contingent of gay delegates that comprise at least 6 percent of that state’s total number of delegates to the 2008 convention.

“There are many states that will have higher percentages,” Stafford said. “This was kind of a threshold for those states — those 10 or 12 states — that have never elected any LGBT delegate to a national convention.”

A delegate analysis distributed at the meeting showed that eight states and two territories did not send an openly gay delegate to the 2004 convention. Among them were Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.

According to the analysis, just 12 states and territories met the 6 percent threshold in 2004.

The caucus is working with the National Stonewall Democrats and other groups to help each state meet the threshold, but gay Democrats said the work could prove challenging.

“The process isn’t over,” said Garry Shay, the gay DNC member from California who first sought a plan to include more gay delegates. “It’s really kind of just begun.”
This article also publishes the "Text of DNC Chair Howard Dean’s comments to the GLBT Caucus."

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