Friday, August 10, 2007

Our thoughts about last night's Presidential Forum

Logo asked us for our thoughts about the candidate's responses last night and posted this from Alan Van Capelle this morning on its election 2008 website called TheVisibleVote08. You can read it below or go here. We also provided our thoughts to the New York Post and you can read those here.

Last night was a historic moment in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement. For the first time in our history Democratic candidates asking to be our next President spent 90 minutes discussing our issues on national television.

The fact that this event took place at all is an achievement for our community. It illustrates how far we are from the days when discussing gay issues was viewed as a liability for a candidate and our community was in the political wilderness.

On the stage, the candidates showed amazing agreement on many of our important issues. They agreed that we need a comprehensive hate crimes law, that it’s wrong to fire people from their job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, and that it’s time to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

But in today’s climate, it hardly takes an enormous amount of political courage to advocate positions that are held by 70-80 percent of Americans.

It has been suggested to me that I should be pleased at how far our civil rights struggle has advanced. I should take comfort that time is on our side and that the question of whether marriage equality will be the law of the land is no longer one of if but rather one of when. While I agree, I remain unsatisfied with some of what I heard last night.

Even though all of the candidates spoke passionately about equality, and despite some very tough questions from the panelists, none of the frontrunners stepped forward in favor of marriage equality. No matter how much they try to convince themselves that civil unions provide equality, the problems gay and lesbian couples are having in New Jersey prove civil unions are not equal.

There is no such thing as partial equality. You either have equality or you don’t. Period.

Despite my disappointment, nobody can deny that passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Hate Crimes Bill and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would make us a stronger nation and would improve the lives of LGBT people. These advances would be important milestones on our path to equality.

That said, the prospect of spending the next year and a half having the same few issues raised and listening to the same answers would be a missed opportunity for our community. That’s why it was refreshing to hear other important issues raised last night.

I was glad to hear an acknowledgment of the problem of homeless LGBT youth on our streets. I was glad to hear transgender issues raised and the desperate plight of gay people in countries like Iraq mentioned.

Moving forward, I hope the candidates tell us how they will address the needs of our aging LGBT population when they are reforming our health and human services delivery system. I hope they commit to inviting gay and lesbian people to be at the table when we finally pass an immigration reform bill. I also want to hear about how they will address the crystal meth epidemic in the LGBT population when they write their drug policy.

The reality is that LGBT people have specific concerns that need to be addressed in many of the most important national issues of our day.

The 2008 election cycle represents the best opportunity in a generation for LGBT people to make real progress on a broader range of issues. Last night was the beginning of what I hope will be and should be a much longer and detailed conversation.

Alan Van Capelle
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

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