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February 12, 2010

Slowly but surely

 Sen. Brown tells Akron gay fund that equality laws are moving, but not without help from us and from Obama

Akron--“Incremental, but very real progress” was the description given by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown to the movement toward LGBT equality, both locally and nationally.

Brown gave the assessment to supporters of Akron’s Gay Community Endowment Fund, whose annual meeting he addressed on January 31.

Brown was accompanied by his wife, Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer-winning columnist and long time LGBT and women’s rights advocate. Schultz is a past keynote speaker for the event, and Brown’s references to her provided some of the lighter moments of his talk.

“Connie only went out with me after checking my voting record on DOMA and choice issues,” Brown said to audience applause.

Brown’s congressional voting record on LGBT equality is 100 percent. He is a Democrat.

He said the couple was discussing the fund’s accomplishments on the way to the Akron Art Museum, where he gave the keynote speech to 150 people.

“Connie said: How can they do all that when they’re so busy undermining our marriage?” Brown recalled as the audience laughed.

Then he turned to more serious matters.

“I had the honor of presiding over the Senate the day the hate crime act was passed, and I got to gavel it down,” Brown said.

Brown said the lessons about progress on LGBT issues are “how far we have come, how far we have to go, and how frustrated we all are at incremental progress.”

“By 2006, the public understood the mistake it made in 2004 and stopped the gay adoption ban,” Brown gave as an example of incremental progress.

In 2004, Ohio voters amended the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages and civil unions. In 2006, a bill to ban LGBT adoptions was stopped in the Ohio House.

Brown referred to House Republican Leader John Boehner’s remarks on Meet the Press earlier that day against repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” Boehner argued that now is not the right time.

“For guys like John Boehner, who is anti-civil rights, it’s never the time,” Brown said.

After the event, Brown met briefly with a reporter to discuss the growing frustration in the LGBT community with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats and the loss of the Democrats’ 60-vote majority.

Asked if the LGBT legislative agenda will advance in Washington without the president’s leadership, Brown replied, “No. The president needs to be engaged.”

Brown said that the Senate has gotten more partisan, and that the election of Scott Brown from Massachusetts gives Republicans the opportunity to overrule Democrats.

Brown also acknowledged that not all Democrats are on board with LGBT equality. But he is hopeful that some Republicans will vote for repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” and to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

However, Brown dodged the question of whether or not Democratic leadership would move them to a vote. He also said he didn’t know of any “markers” that would show their intentions.

Brown said the LGBT community should “continue to do what’s being done” to keep Democrats from stalling their legislative agenda.

During the annual meeting, Gay Community Endowment Fund  president Chris Hixson noted the fund’s activities. It is in its ninth year of existence, and fifth year of awarding grants.

Hixson said there were a record number of applicants in 2009 and eight grants were given totaling $29,268.

Over its history, the fund has awarded $101,242.

Grantees included the AIDS service agencies Community AIDS Network and Violet’s Cupboard.

Fusion magazine and Weathervane Community Playhouse got grants for LGBT cultural projects.

The Battered Women’s Shelter, CASA Board Volunteer Organization, Child Guidance and Family Solutions and the University of Akron Women’s Studies Department got grants for projects dealing with LGBT youth protection, domestic violence reduction and LGBT advocacy.

A number of elected officials attended, including Summit County Executive Russ Pry, openly lesbian Akron Ward 8 councilor Sandra Kurt and Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands.

Newly-appointed Equality Ohio director Sue Doerfer was there, as was national PFLAG vice president Rabbi David Horowitz.

Fusion magazine can be seen online at www.thatgaymagazine.com.

The Gay Community Endowment Fund is online at www.gaycommunityfund.org.

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