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August 15, 2008

Dem convention has more LGBT delegates, better platform


Pittsburgh--When the Democratic Party meets in Denver August 25-28, it will have a record number of LGBT delegates and approve what appears to be the most LGBT-affirming party platform ever.

The creation of the platform was open to comment by Democrats and their constituencies. The National Stonewall Democrats were heavily involved in the process, as were local organizations.

From Ohio, the Stonewall Democrats of Summit County were the most active. According to their president Sandra Kurt, a “listening” meeting was held July 23 where recommendations were developed and passed to the Barack Obama campaign and to the National Stonewall Democrats to be discussed by the Platform Committee at its August 2 conference in Cleveland.

The Human Rights Campaign testified at the Cleveland conference, as did Tobias Wolff, who chairs the Democratic National Committee LGBT policy center.

Among the 15 voting members of that committee were openly lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Diego Sanchez, a transgender man who is the director of public relations and external affairs for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, and openly lesbian Alabama legislator Patricia Todd.

The Cleveland draft quickly became controversial among LGBT people because there was no comprehensive HIV and AIDS policy and there was no direct reference to LGBT people or families.

That document was revised at a meeting of the 180 delegates of the Platform Committee the following weekend in Pittsburgh.

The Gay People’s Chronicle has obtained a copy of the revised document, which at press time has not been released by the DNC. From an LGBT perspective, it is much improved.

Sexual orientation, gender ID included

During a conference call organized by the National Stonewall Democrats with Baldwin, Sanchez, and Todd, the latest draft was hailed by Baldwin as “the most pro-equality platform in Democratic Party history.”

Sanchez, who is the first transgender person on such an influential party committee, called it “an historic landmark” due to its transgender inclusion--a step forward from the 2004 platform.

Todd said, “Adding gender identity was not a fight, and didn’t need voted on. The [Pittsburgh] Committee understood and accepted what we were trying to do.

Under the section titled “A More Perfect Union,” the document says, “Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and disability in every corner of our country, because that’s the America we believe in.”

“We will pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, because hate crimes desecrate sacred spaces and belittle all good people,” the draft continues.

That bill would federalize hate crime committed against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, adding additional penalties and federal resources to the investigations and prosecutions. It has been in Congress every session since 1997.

The document continues: “It is not enough to look back in wonder of how far we have come; those who came before us did not strike a blow against injustice only so that we would allow injustice to fester in our time. That means removing the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding that still exist in America.

“We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.”

In addition, the latest draft includes specific calls to end “don’t ask don’t tell,” to oppose voter identification laws that hurt transgender voters and to support “caring” adoption programs, where being supportive of same sex couples is inferred.

It also seeks a more “culturally sensitive” Census. The Census Bureau said last month that it will count same-sex spouses as “unmarried partners” in 2010, even if they are legally married in Massachusetts or California.

The draft platform also calls for high levels of support for HIV and AIDS programs addressing care and prevention domestically and abroad.

The ‘LGBT’ words are not there

One will not find the words gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in the document.

Baldwin explained that the committee made a conscious choice to use more descriptive language that models the wording used in legislation.

“Most of the wordsmithing,” said Baldwin, “was done purposefully to make the clearest policy statements possible.”

“There was never any discussion to keep the word ‘gay’ out of the platform or any reluctance to say the word,” Todd said.

The 2004 platform does refer to “gay” and “lesbian.”

“The platform is a statement of aspiration,” Baldwin said, “not an implementation plan. It reflects the values of the party.”

A reporter asked about a controversial section titled “Fathers,” saying there are statements in there that “look like they belong in the Republican platform.”

The document reads: “Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes.”

It continues, “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs and end up in prison.”

“We need more fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception,” it reads.

“I was uncomfortable with the Fathers section,” Todd said, echoing Baldwin’s sentiments.

“It was a concern in Cleveland,” Todd said, “but it is one of Barack Obama’s priorities. It’s meaningful to him personally.”

Record number of LGBT delegates

According to preliminary calculations released by the National Stonewall Democrats, six percent of the convention delegates will identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That’s 270 voting delegates and another 180 non-voting participants for an estimated total of 350.

That number will probably go up, said Rick Boylan, a consultant to the National Stonewall Democrats. In past years, more delegates have identified as LGBT and attend the caucus functions after they arrived.

The official count of LGBT delegates in 2004 was 282, up from 213 four years earlier and 126 in 1996.

National Stonewall Democrats director Jon Hoadley said the increased visibility of LGBT people around the convention “shows we are part of the party’s electorate.”

“It’s part of the pipeline of developing LGBT political power,” Hoadley said.

LGBT people will be part of 48 of 50 state delegations, according to Hoadley. Only Nebraska and North Dakota are not yet represented.

Ohio will send 12 LGBT delegates to the convention--the same number as in 2004.

They are David Mann of Toledo; Jason Bristol, Melanie Falls and Leslye Huff of the Cleveland area; and Robert “Bo” Shuff, Michael Council, Terry Penrod, Caroline Gross, Rick Neal, Sandy Anderson, Sarah Hamilton and Alycia Broz from the Columbus area.

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