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Raising visibility and diversity: Obama’s LGBT outreach call and commitment to the community

By pams
Sunday, June 8, 2008 18:37 EDT
 

On Friday, Barack Obama’s campaign held a conference call for about 1200 bloggers, media and LGBT community members to discuss its outreach efforts for the general election. I was invited to be on the impromptu call, but it coincided right when I was on a flight. The good news is Andrew Belonsky of Queerty was on and blogged it.

What’s notable is that Obama deputy campaign director, Steve Hildebrand, acknowledged Hillary Clinton voters’ participation and importance in the primary process.

Now that Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, however, the Senator’s campaign must do everything in its power to rally the gay troops ahead of November’s election. And, obviously, it won’t be easy and it happen over night, nor does the campaign expect such a turn around. Said Hildebrand:

We know that there are a lot of people who have supported Senator Clinton who are on the call with us today and we greatly appreciate that. We know that each of you will take your time to wrap your head around the situation, to hopefully join Barack in his venture moving forward at whatever point you are comfortable doing so. We certainly recognize the pain that goes with some of this, but know that you have a welcome home here that we need your help, that we want your help. We will take it whenever you are ready should you get to that point.

In order to stress the message of unity – and prove the campaign’s gay chops – Hildebrand then turned the call over to Elizabeth Birch, the former HRC executive director who lent her support to Clinton’s campaign.

In perhaps the most emotional explanation we’ve heard on the matter, Birch explained the significance of this election in her family, which includes two biracial twins, a girl and a boy. Said Birch, “…From the beginning had to be careful about how wildly enthusiastic we were about Hillary Clinton because, quite frankly, my little boy looks like Obama. So, it was complex and emotional.”

Andrew noted:

[W]e heard two distinct emotions in every speaker’s voice: dedication and desperation. The Obama campaign clearly understands the danger of losing gay supports – and gay supporters should equally recognize the danger of missing out on Obama.

Other points stressed during the call:
* Birch also aptly noted that John McCain does not present a legitimate pro-LGBT alternative, since he represents a continuation of Bush Administration policies and outlook.

* David Mixner (who initially backed John Edwards) and Joe Solomnese were on the call to lend their support.

* The campaign will model its game plan on DNC head Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, setting up hundreds of offices to do outreach.

* The DNC’s Brian Bond, who will be based in Chicago for the general election, will coordinate constituent outreach.

* Obama’s campaign says it is committed to placing LGBT leaders in key posts.

What I didn’t see in Andrew’s report is whether there were any LGBT people of color who spoke on that call, or whether there would be outreach to ensure that there will be visible minority LGBTs who are a part of Obama’s team. While it is important to include the well-known go-to gays already installed inside the Beltway, part of effecting true change is to recognize the talent out there that will represent the true diversity of our community.

This is particularly important as Barack Obama has been the only presidential candidate to challenge homophobia in the black church. He has done so in front of those audiences not accustomed to being challenged for fomenting bigotry from the pulpit. With that tough medicine must come the salve of visibility, because so many religious LGBTs of color are still afraid to come out of the closet for fear of being culturally and physically exiled from their communities. Many are not comfortable when exiled to the openly gay, socially and politically active community, which is still white dominated and largely insular, exacerbating the perception that LGBT people of color either do not exist and thus there is no problem to combat.

One would hope that Obama, as a perceived change agent, will address this, so that we see more color in the LGBT crowd – black, brown, yellow, etc., as well as gender and gender-identity diversity, the class divide, and regional diversity.

We have our own community diversity issues to address on that front — I’m speaking about our perceived LGBT advocacy organizations — the dearth of color in visible positions in these groups means by default that the go-to people the media or political campaigns rely upon don’t represent the diversity of the community either.

The fact is that we’re all out here, and we’re all voters — and potential leaders simply because many of us are visible. And we know that coming out and being visible is the most powerful change agent there is. How or if that diverse resource is tapped will speak volumes about whether there is real change afoot, or business as usual in our community as well.

Barack Obama’s message to the LGBT community is below the fold. He doesn’t mention marriage equality, but it’s a strong public statement of support that is a far cry from anything McSame has to offer.

“I am proud to join with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters in celebrating the accomplishments, the lives, and the families of all LGBT people during this Pride season. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans.”

“It’s time to live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. Let’s enact federal civil rights legislation to outlaw hate crimes and protect workers against discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Let’s repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and demonstrate that the most effective and professional military in the world is open to all Americans who are ready and willing to serve our country. Let’s treat the relationships and the families of LGBT Americans with full equality under the law.”

“We are ready to accomplish these goals because of the courage and persistence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people who have are working every day to achieve equal rights. The gay couple who demand equal treatment in our family laws as they raise their children; the lesbian soldier who wants nothing more than to serve her country openly and honestly; the transgendered workers who asks for the simple dignity of being judged by the quality of their work. Generations of LGBT Americans, at once ordinary and extraordinary, have made possible this moment in our history. With leadership and hard work, we can fulfill the promise of equality for all.”

The Obama Pride page is here.

The National Stonewall Democrats commented:

“Senator Obama, and the Democratic Party, are now positioned to win the White House thanks to the work of thousands of LGBT Americans on behalf of both the Obama and Clinton campaigns,” said Jon Hoadley, Executive Director. “For over two years, Stonewall Democrats has used our grassroots network to shape the Democratic field into the most accountable and tested group of candidates in the history of our party. From South Carolina to South Dakota, our members organized early to press our candidates forward on issues that are crucial to LGBT Americans.”

…”LGBT Americans have been a central partner in the Obama campaign since its formation,” said Bill Jacobs, a member of both the Stonewall Democrats Board of Directors and of the Obama LGBT Steering Committee. “Our participation assists the campaign as Senator Obama continues to address LGBT issues, not just in front of our community, but before the entire American family.”

Barack Obama’s open letter on his commitment to the LGBT community:

I’m running for President to build an America that lives up to our founding promise of equality for all – a promise that extends to our gay brothers and sisters. It’s wrong to have millions of Americans living as second-class citizens in this nation. And I ask for your support in this election so that together we can bring about real change for all LGBT Americans.

Equality is a moral imperative. That’s why throughout my career, I have fought to eliminate discrimination against LGBT Americans. In Illinois, I co-sponsored a fully inclusive bill that prohibited discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, extending protection to the workplace, housing, and places of public accommodation. In the U.S. Senate, I have cosponsored bills that would equalize tax treatment for same-sex couples and provide benefits to domestic partners of federal employees. And as president, I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and a fully inclusive Employment Non- Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws. I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples–whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage. I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does. I have also called for us to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.

The next president must also address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When it comes to prevention, we do not have to choose between values and science. While abstinence education should be part of any strategy, we also need to use common sense. We should have age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception. We should pass the JUSTICE Act to combat infection within our prison population. And we should lift the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. In addition, local governments can protect public health by distributing contraceptives.

We also need a president who’s willing to confront the stigma – too often tied to homophobia – that continues to surround HIV/AIDS. I confronted this stigma directly in a speech to evangelicals at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, and will continue to speak out as president.

That is where I stand on the major issues of the day. But having the right positions on the issues is only half the battle. The other half is to win broad support for those positions. And winning broad support will require stepping outside our comfort zone. If we want to repeal DOMA, repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and implement fully inclusive laws outlawing hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace, we need to bring the message of LGBT equality to skeptical audiences as well as friendly ones – and that’s what I’ve done throughout my career. I brought this message of inclusiveness to all of America in my keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. I talked about the need to fight homophobia when I announced my candidacy for President, and I have been talking about LGBT equality to a number of groups during this campaign – from local LGBT activists to rural farmers to parishioners at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King once preached.

Just as important, I have been listening to what all Americans have to say. I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for all LGBT Americans. But neither will I close my ears to the voices of those who still need to be convinced. That is the work we must do to move forward together. It is difficult. It is challenging. And it is necessary.

Americans are yearning for leadership that can empower us to reach for what we know is possible. I believe that we can achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country. To do that, we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership. Together, we will achieve real equality for all Americans, gay and straight alike.

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