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February 24, 2006

New party structure draws barbs from LGBT Democrats

Washington, D.C.--In the latest round of an ongoing fracas between the Democratic National Committee and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender party members, the National Stonewall Democrats have called for the appointment of an LGBT senior staffer as part of the party�s new American Majority Partnership project.

�The LGBT representation within this new structure needs to be institutionalized and funded,� said Stonewall Democrats director Eric Stern. �We simply cannot rely on the layers of staff that surround the chair to have an open ear to our community.�

The brouhaha started February 10 when the Washington Blade reported that Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean had closed the party�s Office of LGBT Outreach. In protest, gay party leader and fundraiser Jeff Soref resigned from his post as chair of the gay caucus and from his seat on the DNC.

The DNC quickly countered that the office had indeed been closed, but so were the outreach offices of other constituency groups in favor of a more integrated approach called the American Majority Partnership.

In a statement titled �A Year of Progress for DNC LGBT Outreach,� Dean says the new structure will �incorporate LGBT outreach throughout the work of the DNC and seeks to identify common issues of concern to all the Democratic Party�s core communities.�

He said the new program is located in his office, guaranteeing access, and will prevent the traditional �parachuting LGBT organizers into states weeks before an election.�

Dean also said that the new system will effectively increase the resources devoted to LGBT outreach and improve the party�s visibility at LGBT events.

Party activists, however, are skeptical, and began harpooning the change and accusing Dean of retreating on a campaign promise.

�To be honest, I am not surprised by this latest move by the Democrats,� said Keith Boykin, who is currently the board president of the National Black Justice Coalition and a former White House aide to President Clinton. �To be perfectly blunt, I have lost nearly all faith in the Democrats. I�ve been a lifelong Democrat, but I think the party has been led by a bunch of spineless cowards who are too afraid to do the right thing. At some level, I really don�t care what the Democratic Party does anymore because the Democratic Party doesn�t represent me.�

Ramon Gardehire, the former deputy director of the party�s LGBT Outreach Office, wrote in a Blade op-ed column, �To add insult to injury, Dean has decided to maintain the DNC�s Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council, which raises money for the party from gay donors.�

�Intentional or not,� Gardehire continued, �the message this sends is simple: Our money may be good enough, but we are not.�

While campaigning to become DNC Chair--a campaign where he aggressively courted LGBT support--Dean said he would retain the LGBT Outreach Office on a questionnaire from the gay caucus.

�Dean has broken his word,� said Gardehire, �and his flip-flop is tearing at the contract between the Democratic Party and GLBT voters, which has benefited both for so long. This gay Democrat is growing increasingly tired of political cowardice and lies.�

Dean met with about 25 LGBT New York Democrats on February 13, including Boykin and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force�s director Matt Foreman. The meeting was organized at Dean�s request by LGBT activist Ethan Geto, who chaired Dean�s presidential campaign in New York.

According to reports, most of the meeting focused on sharpening the party�s message on marriage, which has been arguably incoherent.

Stern said the LGBT community is second only to African-Americans in terms of loyalty to the Democratic Party, but criticized that LGBT people make up less than two percent of the DNC.

�This level is unacceptable,� said Stern. �Governor Dean should capitalize on this support by offering a plan to increase the number of openly LGBT members of the DNC.�

�Republicans have already spent millions of dollars placing anti-marriage amendments on statewide ballots this November in an effort to shape voter turnout they believe will help their candidates on Election Day,� said Stern.

�Under the leaderhip of Chairman Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee has increased the staff and support that it provides to anti-gay activists to conduct electoral work,� said Stern. �Democrats must offer an equally aggressive response.�

 

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