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A New Gay Agenda: Why We Need to Push Obama and Congress Harder

By Lavender January 30, 2009

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We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore. If there is a clear message to come out of GLBT America’s response to the fall election, that slightly modified line from the movie Network is it.

Lesbian Christie Keith, who earns a living writing about pets, stepped out of her comfort zone to make that point in a Daily Kos diary. “We’re no longer willing to settle for simply not getting beaten to death, for being able to live in our constricted safe zones without fear of baseball bats to the head and getting fired,” she writes.

This post-Proposition 8, post-Rick Warren fury is fueling Stonewall 2.0 activism. It is also one of the reasons we need a new gay agenda, especially in Washington, D.C. Our community’s decades-old federal wish list is getting stale. It includes passing protection against job discrimination (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act), passing a hate-crimes bill, and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy.

These are all worthy causes, but they are no longer enough. States retain a monopoly on marriage law, so it won’t do us much good to push Congress to legalize same-sex marriages. However, there is much we can do.

Writing separately, longtime politicos Joan Garry and David Mixner recently proposed additions and modifications to our old list of demands.

Former Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Executive Director Garry is the co-chair of the National GLBT Finance Committee for Obama for America. Writing in The Huffington Post, Garry calls her candidate to task. She tells Obama to appoint more openly GLBT officials, to create a White House GLBT initiative to institute fair policies throughout the federal government, and to appoint the first openly gay member to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“Don’t look at us as gay Americans who have issues,” Garry writes. “Look at us as Americans who have been denied basic civil rights. This is how our second-class citizenship SHOULD be viewed, and it fits perfectly with Barack Obama’s vision for a UNITED States.”

Former Democratic National Committee member and onetime Bill Clinton confidant Mixner argues for an omnibus civil rights bill. In a recent post on his blog, Mixner says such legislation could include protection against employment discrimination along with immigration rights for same-sex spouses, Social Security benefits, and more. Other pro-queer legislation could also have multiple missions. For example, Mixner argues that a bill repealing DOMA could include a requirement that states recognize civil unions that are legal elsewhere.

“If we take our rights one piece of legislation at a time, the process could take forever,” Mixner writes. He urges us to think outside of our old boxes.

I agree heartily with Garry and Mixner’s suggestions and add one of my own. Let’s also insert the right of hospital visitation and other spousal rights into that bill repealing DOMA.

The time for action is now. Obama’s support of much of our agenda means that we finally have a president who should sign just about any pro-gay bill Congress can pass. The newly enlarged Democratic majorities also mean that we should have more Congressional support than ever before.

This new political landscape also gives us greater freedom to act. When GLBT America faced the repressive Bush administration and a Congress dominated by social conservatives, we didn’t dare challenge politicians who might be our friends. The prospect of defeating even weak-kneed Democrats and facing never-ending government by the religious right meant we had to bide our time. But those days are over.

Politicians—both Democrat and Republican—who sanctimoniously claim that they oppose same-sex marriage but support other legal rights must be forced to take a stand. Even if we don’t win a single victory in Congress this year, every vote on GLBT issues identifies our true supporters and flushes out our false friends.

This will give us a list of politicians to target for defeat in the 2010 midterm elections. This will also give all of those newly energized GLBT activists a chance to funnel their fury into action.

Christie Keith is right. We won’t settle anymore. The emotion that is fueling protests over Proposition 8 and Pastor Warren’s role in the presidential inauguration is not going to disappear.

When I came out 30 years ago, my only political agenda was for my mother to return my phone calls and for me to be left alone to live in peace. Today, my mother and I discuss queer political strategy, and she is as angry about my lack of rights as I am. More importantly, I am sick, right down to my socks, of being forced into a second-class life.

The time for timidity is long past.

Diane Silver is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, whose freelance writing has appeared in Ms. magazine, Salon.com, and other national publications. She can be reached care of this publication or at [email protected]

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