Standing Firm

Matt Foreman, the head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and dozens of prominent leaders in the queer community are right.

This is no time for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to pull back in its struggle for equal rights.

Foreman and his allies made their views known in a letter dated December 9 that was sent to every member of Congress and is published in full on page 12 of this issue.

The immediate impetus for the letter was obviously a front-page story in The New York Times the same day reporting that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) had looked to the election results and was prepared to trim its sails on the fight for same-sex marriage recognition. The story also included the curious suggestion that HRC might be willing to throw its support behind Pres. George W. Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security in return for the administration’s agreement to include gay and lesbian partners in the program.

The Times story unleashed a series of clarifications and refutations from HRC arguing that their views were not appropriately conveyed in the story. Several days later, a story in the Boston Globe reported that a prominent Democrat in Massachusetts said that Cheryl Jacques, the former Massachusetts state senator who resigned her post as head of HRC just one year after arriving, was forced out because she insisted on focusing on the same-sex marriage drive. That report, too, elicited denials from HRC.

I, for one, am willing to give HRC the benefit of the doubt on this one. The organization is experiencing a moment of institutional stress, as it looks to find a new executive director. Like all activists, HRC’s professionals were undoubtedly stung by the results of the November 2 elections. Temporarily without a top dog, the group perhaps lacked discipline in communicating its reaction to the harsh post-election environment.

HRC has some of the very best activists in the movement and we can only hope that those individuals recognize that the organization must stand with the gay rights movement’s other major leaders in continuing to advance the ball aggressively.

It may well also be true that The New York Times, in its goal of putting its imprimatur on an analysis of how the election effected one distinct constituent group, was willing to aggregate a number of disparate comments from HRC staff into an overarching theme of retrenchment.

Interestingly, a November 12 piece in The Times on the reaction of gay legal rights groups to the election framed its reporting to suggest that leading advocate attorneys were pulling back from raising the marriage issue in the federal courts, when in fact groups such as Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders have always premised their litigation strategy on winning marriage rights under state constitutional protections.

Post-election coverage will always strive to capture the zeitgeist ushered in by voters’ decisions and since November 2 we have been treated to all manner of big picture postulations about what Bush’s re-election really meant.

The conventional wisdom that emerged the evening of November 2—as pundits scrambled to recover from wildly inaccurate exit polls that predicted a Kerry sweep and happened upon a statistic suggesting that “moral values” played a crucial role—is an important backdrop for the letter Foreman and his allies penned.

As the dust has settled on the immediate post-election flurry about moral values, a good deal of critical analysis has emerged suggesting that the statistical and analytical bases of that perspective are seriously flawed. Bush won because in spite of all the doubts Americans have about the war in Iraq, a majority of voters in the wake of 9/11 were unwilling to change horses.

By no means are Americans ready to embrace same-sex marriage, but it is encouraging that more than 60 percent support either marriage or civil unions for gay couples. And greater support among younger voters predicts continued gains. That is extraordinary progress in just a few years.

The Christian right wins to the extent that politicians, especially leaders in the Democratic Party, accept in uncritical fashion the moral values explanation of Bush’s victory.

Led by the Task Force’s Foreman, leaders of the queer community issued just the right message on December 9.

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