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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 29, 2006

IMs, Iraq and Rhode Island

Scandals pocked the political landscape in 2006, but the LGBT community came out ahead

The kaleidoscope of public and political personalities seemed to spin faster and more bizarrely throughout 2006 than one could have possibly imagined at the start of the year, with the emphasis on downfall. It once again proved the dictum that truth is stranger than fiction.

Even before congressional Republicans took their Iraq-induced drubbing in the November elections, their House leaders had been done in by their own overreaching or incompetence.

Majority Leader Tom �The Hammer� DeLay (Texas) threw in the towel, resigning in April to fight corruption charges, but it was too late for Republicans to hold on to his seat. He was succeeded by the preternaturally tanned John Boehner from the �sunbelt� state of Ohio.

DeLay had been pulling the strings of front man Dennis Hastert (Illinois) as Speaker of the House and when left to his own devices, Hastert quickly proved his ineptitude in managing the scandal of Mark Foley and congressional pages. Hastert as Speaker was effectively gone even before the elections.

And speaking of Foley, the Floridian resigned his seat at the end of September, almost immediately after it became public knowledge that he had exchanged salacious electronic messages with former congressional pages.

It turns out that electrons, not bodily fluids, were about the only things that Foley exchanged with the young men. And only after they had left the page program and returned home. It was a little creepy, and a lot pathetic, but to hear some of our Democratic friends in full campaign mode spin it, nubile pages were being molested in the very antechambers of the Capitol Building.

Oh, and soon after resigning, while hiding out at a rehab facility, Foley acknowledged through his lawyer the open secret known in all of Washington and much of Florida, that he is gay. Otherwise he has had the good sense to shut up and stay out of the public eye. Let�s hope he is not writing a �tell-all� book.

The scene only got weirder a month later when Pastor Ted Haggard was outed for using crystal meth and the services of masseuse and ex-escort Michael Jones. The father of five and evangelical superstar tried copping a plea to only the former but nobody bought it and he was quickly separated from his Colorado Springs megachurch and vanished.

That scandal eclipsed the one involving Claude Allen. One of the most prominent African American social conservatives, the former number two man at the Department of Health and Human Services was sitting in the presidential box during the State of the Union address and a few days later quietly resigned from his White House position as domestic policy chief, for �personal reasons.�

Allen had been moonlighting, supplementing his income with a sophisticated ruse that gave him cash back for items he did not purchase at suburban stores like Target. And then he was busted, on videotape. It turns out, the scam was something that Allen had done a couple of dozen times. He eventually pled guilty in the summer to a lesser charge and was sentenced to probation.

All those hijinks might make one forget that the purpose of Congress is to pass legislation. So, social conservatives again trotted out an amendment to the US Constitution to ban the specter of gay marriage. And President George W. Bush again pandered to that base in urging passage of the amendment.

It didn�t make any difference. In June, the Senate again said no, by about the same margin as two years earlier, despite Republican pickups in that chamber. The House went through similar motions a month later.

Reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act to better reflect the changing nature of the HIV epidemic was the ongoing congressional soap opera for many within the gay community. Hopes for a spring passage of the bipartisan, bicameral legislation were quickly dashed. Multiple subsequent revisions fared no better.

The main issue is that the caseload and problems continue to grow but the federal money to meet those needs does not. Any changes in RWCA would take money from the cities that were first and hardest hit by the epidemic and shift it to areas where it hit later, primarily the South.

The political, medical, and moral solution is to increase the pot of money so that nobody loses and all AIDS services are adequately funded. Unfortunately, nobody has managed to pull that off.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been the centerpiece of the Human Rights Campaign�s legislative agenda. But they didn�t even bother to have the bill introduced in this session of Congress.

Legislation to repeal the antigay military policy known as Don�t Ask, Don�t Tell has garnered 120 cosponsors in the House, though a companion bill was not introduced in the Senate.

Democratic success in November, seizing control of both houses of Congress by slim margins, has raised expectations that LGBT concerns will be more fully addressed over the next two years. While hearings are assured on several measures, passage of these bills is not.

In October, the retired Gerry Studds (D-Massachusetts), the first openly gay member of Congress, died at the age of 69.

At the end of the year, Jim Kolbe (Arizona), the only openly gay Republican in Congress, was preparing to retire. Barney Frank (Massachusetts) was preparing for his elevation to chairman of the financial services committee and active engagement with that industry.

Other key electoral successes for the LGBT community throughout the year included the elevation of Christine Quinn to speaker of the City Council of New York City, the second most powerful office in that city; the landslide reelection of David Cicilline as mayor of Providence, Rhode Island; and the election of Patricia Todd to the Alabama legislature, despite attempts by some local Democrats to overturn her primary victory.


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