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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 17, 2004

No trading Social Security for partner benefits, HRC

Washington, D.C.--Leaders of prominent national LGBT organizations are upset by what they call mischaracterizations in a New York Times story on a shift in tactics following the November elections.

In addition to President George W. Bush winning his reelection bid, constitutional amendments passed in 11 states barring same sex marriage, joining two others that approved similar measures prior to the general election. That brings to 17 the total number of states with such amendments, although they are being challenged in Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky.

The December 9 story, which ran under the headline �Groups debate slower strategy on gay rights,� pointed to the Human Rights Campaign, which it said had �accepted the resignation of its executive director, appointed its first non-gay board co-chairman and adopted a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships.�

It went on to say that an �official said the group would consider supporting President Bush�s efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the plan.�

HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg rebutted the article in a letter to the editor.

�HRC would never support a proposal that would undermine the rights of any other group of citizens. Any characterization that HRC supports the privatization of Social Security is flat out wrong,� she said. �I can imagine no circumstance in which we would be for privatization.�

�We believe strongly, however, that any debate on Social Security must include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families, as should any discussion about pensions or the tax code, for that matter,� she also noted.

She illustrated the new method HRC is advocating, personalizing the struggle for equal rights. �For example, Frank Benedetti and Gary Trowbridge--gay veterans--paid into the Social Security system but will receive no Social Security survivor protections when either dies,� she said. �That�s unequal and un-American.�

On December 9, a letter circulated by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was sent to all members of Congress. It was signed by over 70 LGBT leaders, including Sue Doerfer, the executive director of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center.

Entitled �Where We Stand,� the letter reinforces HRC�s repudiation of the New York Times story.

�The powerful and revealing fact is that over 60% of voters in November 2 exit polls said they supported either marriage or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. What remarkable progress we have made over these last years,� the letter reads.

As to the Social Security claims in the Times story, the letter says, �For our part, we want to be absolutely clear and on the record: We specifically reject any attempts to trade equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a group that includes many elders, for the rights of senior citizens under Social Security or, for that matter, the rights of any other group of Americans.�

�Finally, although the struggle for freedom can be difficult and painful for those without full equality, it would be an historic mistake to grow tired of the battle or surrender basic rights and equality in order to make the road easier.�

The Human Rights Campaign�s Mark Shields and Steven Fisher summed up in another press release, �Tactics adapt, goals do not.�

�There are absolutely no plans to slow down,� Doerfer said. �In fact, we�ll be increasing our efforts. Not only will we be working to repeal the Ohio Marriage Amendment, we�ll also be working to create pro-LGBT legislation that gives full rights and equality to all members of our community.�

She pointed to the creation of the Equality Coalition, a network of local LGBT advocacy groups hosted by the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center.


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