Guest column by Kerry Eleveld – The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

I asked Kerry Eleveld, editor at Equality Matters, if I could repost this excellent piece because it’s chock full of tasty and timely points for us to chat about in the coffeehouse, so many thanks to EM’s Richard Socarides for letting me share it here.  –Pam

The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

By Kerry Eleveld

A potentially divisive debate is emerging among some LGBT activists that sets up a false choice between pushing for employment nondiscrimination protections or marriage equality at the federal level. I roundly reject the notion that this is an either-or proposition. As a community, we can and should work on both issues over the next two years. But it’s fair to say that while I personally believe these two issues are equally as important, they are not equally situated, and therefore the strategies we must employ to advance them are distinctly different.

Let’s start with a brief overview of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) — which would prohibit employers from firing people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity — from my perspective as a reporter who covered the issue closely over the last two years.

First, regardless of why we failed to pass ENDA in the 111th Congress, the fact is that we didn’t even get a committee vote in either chamber on the bill in one of the most heavily weighted Democratic Congresses in recent memory. Many people underestimate just how devastating that looks to legislative operatives and lawmakers outside our community. They don’t care about the panoply of explanations for why the vote didn’t happen, they only know that it didn’t and that means that either we couldn’t muster the votes or the Democratic leadership did not want to see this bill debated on the floor.

Second, although I have asked a good number of questions about ENDA and its prospects for a vote, I still can’t tell you why it never happened. Meanwhile, I can recall with decent clarity nearly every twist and turn of the battle to pass “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) repeal. This is not due to a bias on my part, but is rather indicative of the fact that no one seemed willing to talk with any specificity about what was or wasn’t happening with ENDA.

And here is where our community’s analysis must begin — we need to have an honest conversation about our inability to discuss ENDA and transgender issues. Last year, when I asked people in our advocacy groups, staffers on the Hill, and lawmakers about the prospects for passing ENDA, I most commonly got no information or misinformation.  As the bill continued to languish and the House committee vote was continually delayed, my questions were increasingly met with indignation and wholesale assurances that all was going according to plan. But ultimately, all I found was a brick wall when it came to identifying the hurdles.

Meanwhile, many in our activist community leveled hostility at any entity that relayed bad news about the legislation’s progress. When the Washington Blade reported a story in January 2010 entitled “Filibuster Threat Makes ENDA Unlikely In 2010” in which several anonymous sources sounded the alarm bells about ENDA’s chances, it immediately drew shoot-the-messenger recriminations from people who criticized the story for using unnamed sources. This illustrates just what a lighting-rod issue this has become for LGBT activists — instead of holding the powerbrokers in charge of the legislation accountable, activists were vilifying reporters who were trying to disseminate intelligence about the bill’s state of play. And this is precisely why journalists were often forced to use anonymous sources on the topic — no one seemed willing to speak on the record with any real candor about the topic.

More below the fold.

This has grave implications for our ability to develop a strategy around ENDA and successfully move the bill. If members of the LGBT community are incapable of having a forthright conversation about the obstacles to passing this bill, what does that mean for lawmakers and their ability to discuss the issue?

This is a problem, folks. Not just for our elected officials, not just for our groups, but for our community as a whole. We all have a stake in ENDA — it would provide critical protections for the full breadth of the queer community — but the battle over transgender inclusion in 2007 has left us with so many scars that people are afraid to speak up for fear of the backlash.

Of course, some discussions are beginning to happen now, but I don’t believe we have really illuminated the problem yet. I have heard people suggest that we had enough votes to pass the legislation in the House but never got that vote because the clock ran out. Some have also hypothesized that DADT repeal and health care sucked up too much time in the schedule to leave room for ENDA.

From my perspective, this cannot possibly be the whole story. If we truly had the votes in the House and yet failed to move the bill through committee to the floor, then that was a serious strategic misstep even if it would have stalled in the Senate. Bills live and die by momentum. They get a chief sponsor and then more sponsors and then a committee vote and then a floor vote. And maybe they don’t pass both chambers one Congress, but if they make it through one, they are better poised to pass through both next time around.

So if we did have the votes and our advocates (lawmakers and groups included) didn’t press the issue, that was a critical error. And the idea that there just wasn’t room in the calendar because of DADT and health care seems like a red herring as well. Health care was completed in the House in March of 2010. Attaching “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to the Defense authorization bill took place two months later in May, but that was it — the House had the votes and was ready to go, they were mostly waiting on the Senate Armed Services Committee to line up the votes. So something doesn’t add up.

Rather than pointing fingers here, I am simply pointing out that we are miles away from having the full story about ENDA’s demise and I don’t see how we can possibly expect to develop a strategy around an issue that we can’t seem to discuss in full candor.

I said at the outset of this piece that ENDA and marriage equality were not equally situated. Though both issues are about creating safety nets for people who need to protect themselves and their families, they are not as equally ingrained in the public consciousness. Similar to the issue of DADT, same-sex marriage has been percolating as part of a national debate since the early ’90s when a Hawaii court ruled that gay couples might have the right to marry. Marriage is a concept everyone understands and the American public has watched the marriage equality battle rip through nearly every state in the country — some fights being more high-profile than others.

If you asked the vast majority of Americans right now whether same-sex couples can get married, most of them would have a frame of reference for the question, regardless of whether they answered the question correctly. But if you asked them whether LGBT people can be legally fired, my guess is that few of them would have ever even considered the question. My own personal experience of talking to reasonably well-informed straight allies is that many have no idea people can still be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states or that transgender individuals can be fired in 38 states.

Although the marriage issue has been painted by some as an elitist concern pushed by wealthy donors, a New York Times article last month revealed new Census Bureau data showing that cities like San Antonio, TX and Jacksonville, FL have the highest concentration of gay couples raising children in the country. Demographers also found that black or Latino gay couples were twice as likely as whites to be raising children. While we cannot definitively say all those couples want to get married, it is undeniably true that they and their families could benefit significantly from the protections provided by marriage.

And they could also benefit from the protections provided by ENDA.

This is exactly why we must work on both issues simultaneously. But ENDA requires a serious two-year lobbying strategy at the very least. My sense from talking to Hill staffers and, in some cases, members of Congress is that many lawmakers still don’t know how to broach transgender issues and, quite frankly, have more questions than answers on the matter. The House is undoubtedly further along than the Senate, but work is badly needed in both chambers.

Meanwhile, high profile court cases regarding both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry will continue to provide opportunities for advocates to advance the conversation around equal marriage rights. It would be an absolute mistake for our community not to capitalize on stories that will already be making mainstream headlines in order to sway public opinion and push our political allies. We must strive to frame this issue to our advantage because antigay forces are already redoubling their efforts against us.

ENDA and marriage equality are simply not an either-or proposition. Fortunately, the resources required to advance each of these issues at the federal level share similarities but don’t infringe on each other. And choosing between them is not an option.

Kerry Eleveld is editor at Equality Matters, a campaign for full LGBT equality. Eleveld previously served as Washington Correspondent for The Advocate for the first two years of the Obama Administration.
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Pee-Wee Herman And Anderson Cooper Guest Star In SNL’s Digital Short

Joe. My. God.

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GLAAD Has A Problem With CNN’s On-Air Guest List

CNN, the Time Warner cable news network that regularly grants airtime for hate leaders and certified quacks to legitimize their positions (and also grants airtime for its critics to attack it), has received a nasty little note from GLAAD.

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Guest Post: Left Behind 2010

Below is an guest post by Shannon Cuttle — Shannon Cuttle is an educator, school administrator, safe schools advocate and trainer, writer and policy wonk. She has a background in non profit leadership, community organizing and policy on a state and federal level. She is the founder of the Safe Schools Action Network and contributor to

This year will go down in history as full equality became one step closer for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adult community members.  From the historic Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which will eventually allow openly lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members to serve,to full marriage equality in Washington D.C., to victories such as hospital visitation mandates for LGBT families nationally.

Image: Shannon Cuttle. Photo by Jamie McgonnialOne of the biggest under-reported stories of 2010 affects a population who mostly cannot yet legally vote nor make a donation to a campaign or an organization, and most of whom still depend on an adult to look out for their best interests and in some cases save their lives:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth and allies.

In 2010 we saw bullying and harassment in schools and communities in Washington, D.C, Texas,  Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Massachusetts,  Colorado,  Virginia, Florida, New York, Michigan, Utah, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Louisiana, Idaho, Connecticut and California, and those were just the stories that we heard about.

In more than half of the United States of America in 2010, youth experienced bullying and harassment.

In 2010, we lost over 20 youth due to reported suicide from bullying and harassment. Keep in mind: those are only the reported cases. Across the nation, we were heartbroken and shocked to learn about many suicides due to bullying harassment, including Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, Chloe Lacey, and others. The youngest student that attempted to take hir life from severe bullying and harassment at school was just six years old. Not every story made the news.

This year we also saw student heroes like Will Phillips, Constance McMillen, Ceara Sturgis, Paige Rawl, Graeme Taylor, Derrick Martin stand up and fight back after serve bullying and harassment at school. There are countless other youth whose stories have yet to be told about their struggle, strength, courage, and pain facing bullying and harassment in schools, colleges, and universities.  Over 150,000 students miss school each day due to bullying and harassment. And 9 out 10 LGBT youth experience bullying and harassment-especially given the advent of  Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. According to GLSEN, 40% of all youth who have access to a computer have experienced cyber bullying.

Youth in 2010 have faced not just bullying and harassment, but homelessness as well.  Up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and are struggling for food and shelter across this nation. Most of these homeless youth were thrown out of their homes or disowned by their families, left on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And even progressive advances such as the DADT Repeal Act of 2010 still do not address creating safe spaces for lesbian and gay youth in JROTC, young adults in ROTC, or cadets in our nation’s schools, colleges, and universities.

How are we truly providing high quality education if we are not providing inclusive safe schools?

In 2011 we must fight together to make safe schools a priority so that all youth-regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity (actual or perceived), socioeconomic status, disability or impairment , religion, immigration status, race, national origin, HIV/AIDS status, or any other identity-are free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.

What can you do?

Join the movement for safe schools in your local communities and stand up to bullying and harassment when you hear it, see it and take action. Help create inclusive safe spaces and anti-bullying and harassment polices on a local, state-wide, and federal level such as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Make 2011 the year we invest in youth and make sure no child is left behind by making inclusive safe schools  a reality.

Get Involved today: Safe Schools Action Network, GLSEN, Make it Better Project, Project Life Vest, Operation Shine America, PFLAG, Trevor Project, It Gets Better Project, Ali Forney Center, GSA Network and your local PTA, LGBT community Center, classroom, school board or college campus.

If you need help please call The Trevor Help Line at:

1-800-U- TREVOR (800-488-7386)

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Guest post by Rev. Patrick Cheng – The Truth Will Make Us Free: A Queer Year in Review

Give a hearty coffeehouse welcome to Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at

Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The author of
Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology, he shares a year-end piece for discussion. –Pam

The Truth Will Make Us Free: A Queer Year in Review

By Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D.

Follow on Twitter @patrickscheng

Anti-gay Christians love to quote John 8:32, which says that “the truth will make you free.” According to them, if only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people would simply accept the truths of the Christian faith, we would discover the error of our ways, repent of our sins and miraculously change our misdirected sexual orientations and/or gender identities.

As an openly-gay theologian, ordained Christian minister and seminary professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I agree that the truth will make us free. However, the anti-gay Christians have it backwards. As the groundbreaking events of 2010 have demonstrated, it is actually the truth of the fundamental goodness of LGBT people and our lives that will make us free. Ironically, this truth also will free anti-gay Christians of their own heterosexist prejudices and theological blind spots.

What were some of the truths about the goodness of LGBT people and our lives that were demonstrated in 2010? In August, the first fully-litigated U.S. federal court trial about same-sex marriage concluded that there was no rational basis for prohibiting LGBT people from entering into civil marriage. The trial court struck down California Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that stripped LGBT people in California of the right to marry. Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s ruling demonstrated the truth that LGBT civil marriages are grounded in the same ethical values of love, mutual caring and commitment as non-LGBT civil marriages.

In September, after a rash of horrific suicides by young gay men across the United States, the openly-gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller started the “It Gets Better Project.” This project has resulted in more than 5,000 Internet videos of LGBT people and our allies, speaking directly — and giving hope — to suffering LGBT young people around the world. Each video tells the truth about how even though many of us suffered at the hands of bullies and bigots while growing up, our lives ultimately have become better in the process of coming out and speaking the truth about our lives to the world.

More below the fold.

In December, the U.S. Congress authorized — and President Obama signed into law — the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell statute that had prohibited openly lesbian and gay soldiers from serving in the U.S. military for the past 17 years. The repeal was based upon overwhelming evidence that allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military would have no adverse consequences to national security. In fact, the evidence showed that encouraging truth telling by lesbian and gay soldiers would actually enhance the effectiveness of our armed forces. As most of us learned from an early age, telling the truth is a virtue and not a vice.

There were a number of other encouraging examples in 2010 of speaking the truth about LGBT people. For example, in September a Florida state court struck down an anti-gay statute that expressly prohibited LGBT people from adopting children in that state. Shortly thereafter, the Florida Department of Children and Families declined to appeal the decision, thus conceding the truth of that ruling.

In December, the United Nations spoke the truth by voting to protect LGBT people around the world from extrajudicial killings and arbitrary executions, notwithstanding the strenuous objections of a number of member countries. Even Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent book-length interview with a German journalist, took a first step toward speaking the truth about LGBT people by saying that the intentional use of condoms by a male prostitute to prevent HIV/AIDS infection could be the “first step in the direction of moralization.”

Interestingly, anti-gay Christians love to cite over and over again the half-dozen or so verses in the Bible that purportedly condemn same-sex acts as sinful. However, they ignore the nearly 200 verses in the Bible that emphasize the importance of truth-telling from a theological and ethical perspective, not to mention the explicit prohibition of bearing false witness against one’s neighbors in the Ten Commandments.

These anti-gay Christians would do better to heed the stern biblical warnings against bearing false witness. Recently, the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) officially designated 13 anti-gay Christian groups — including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition — as “hate groups” for spreading “known falsehoods” against LGBT people. Another five groups — including the Concerned Women for America, Liberty Counsel and the National Organization for Marriage — were cited for their use of “demonizing propaganda” against sexual minorities on the SPLC’s website.

Anti-gay Christians, including those who are affiliated with the above groups mentioned by the SPLC, would do well to read more closely the first chapter of letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In particular, they should read Romans 1 as applying to themselves. Often that chapter is used solely as “proof” of the sinfulness of LGBT people. What anti-gay Christians seem to forget, however, is the traditional doctrine of original sin, as articulated in Romans and interpreted by theologians such as Augustine of Hippo onwards, applies to all people — including themselves!

What if the warning of Romans 1:18-21 against the “ungodliness” and “wickedness” of those who “suppress the truth” — and those whose “senseless minds” are “darkened” — actually referred to those anti-gay Christians who fail to acknowledge the truth and empirical evidence about the fundamental goodness and loving nature of LGBT people and our relationships?

What if the “lusts,” “impurity” and “degrading” actions (including “exchanging the truth about God for a lie”) as described in Romans 1:24-25 actually referred to the lust for political power, wealth and idolatrous self-worship as exhibited by many anti-gay Christians, some of whom scapegoat LGBT people as a convenient way of diverting attention from their own sexual sins?

What if the condemnation of the “shameless acts” committed with “one another” and the “debased mind” described by St. Paul in Romans 1:27-28 actually referred to the brutal gang rape (metaphorically speaking) of LGBT people by anti-gay Christian hate speech – hate speech that has resulted in numerous queer bashings and suicides by LGBT people, including innocent young people whose lives were tragically cut off before reaching their prime?

Although admirable progress was made during 2010 with respect to basic human rights for LGBT people, much more needs to be done. In particular, the rise of state-sanctioned anti-LGBT violence in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Asia and Africa, is frightening. For example, the upcoming vote by the Uganda legislature on its “kill-the-gays” legislation is one example of this state-sanctioned violence that must be condemned by people of faith everywhere.

As LGBT people, we must remain ever vigilant and hopeful that the truth of the fundamental goodness, and holiness, of our lives and relationships will free us from the sinful bondage of homophobic and heterosexist oppression. However, LGBT people are not the only ones who will benefit from this truth. The truth will also free anti-gay Christians from their own heterosexist prejudices and theological blind spots — shortcomings that would otherwise prevent them from entering fully into the reign of God.

Other year-ender items to click over to:

* Truth Wins Out – Year in Review — LGBT Top 10

* Michigan Messenger – Year in Review: LGBT issues figure prominently in 2010

* Ranker – Top 10 People Out of the Closet in 2010
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Guest column by Jake Goodman: A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)

A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)

by Jake Goodman

This past Thursday, a broad coalition of Jewish and queer New Yorkers gathered on in sub-freezing temperatures for a protest march through the heart of the Jewish neighborhood in Flatbush.  The event, titled “In God’s Name,” was organized by grassroots activist group Queer Rising – of which I am a proud member.

“In God’s Name” turned out to be one of the most powerful, effective events I’ve experienced.  I’d like to take a moment to explain why.

Why We Fight:  October 2010

Who could forget October 2010?  Suicides by queer youth made headlines every day.  Young people faced harassment, terror and shame so extreme that they felt compelled to take their own lives.  At the same time, reports of hate crimes against LGBT people surfaced.  In New York City alone, gay men were attacked in Chelsea and at the historic Stonewall Inn, of all places.  Most horrifying to me, in the Bronx a group of kids ages 16-23 calling themselves the Latin King Goonies tricked, trapped, then tortured three men for being gay.  

On October 10th, at the very height of this violent epidemic, NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, in an anti-gay speech written by Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the infamously homophobic fringe rabbi of Flatbush, Brooklyn, said,  “I don’t want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equal valid and successful option.  It is not.”   I watched, mortified, as the media repeatedly replayed the video of ultra-Orthodox Jews applauding and approving this inciting speech.

In that moment, the link between anti-LGBT rhetoric and the recent rash of suicides by queer youth became tragically clear for me.  Radical-Right religious and political leaders, role models to many, spew hateful speech that strips queer people of their humanity and dignity.  Others hear this rhetoric (aided by an ill-informed media machine) and internalize it as tacit permission to enact violence onto individuals who are, not to mince words, called abominations.

The fact that such vitriol was coming from the mouth-or rather, the pen-of someone who purported to be a spokesperson for my religion was beyond the pale.  As was stated by the always-eloquent Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), “As Jews, we are horrified at the anti-LGBT bigotry coming in the name of Judaism at many of our youth, Jewish and non-Jewish.  We want religion to be a force of liberation, not a force of oppression.”

How We Fight: Building Coalition “In God’s Name”

When planning “In Gods Name,” we had a choice.  Initially, we wanted to do an action that directly attacked Rabbi Yehuda Levin on his home turf, shaming him for his vicious homophobic rhetoric, accusing him of having blood on his hands for the deaths and wrecked lives of people who listened to and internalized his words.  After speaking with many people within diverse Jewish communities (Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, unaffiliated, queer), we quickly realized this was not the right tack to take.

Yehuda Levin is a fringe rabbi.  Despite the picture the media paints, he has very few actual followers-maybe 14?-and we do not want to elevate him.   Oftentimes, protesters simply compare homophobic Jewish leaders to Hilter, inciting a community that is hyper-sensitive to attacks of anti-Semitism and dashing any support that might otherwise exist. Finally, and most importantly, what would an angry protest accomplish?  We would have made our point, sure, but what would change?  Nothing.

So we decided instead to build a coalition. We communicated with over 100 rabbis from every denomination.  We visited support groups for ex-Orthodox gay Jews.  We partnered with other organizations and communities that were doing related work.  We mobilized both Jewish and queer organizations to collaborate.

In the end, the success of “In God’s Name” can be measured by who showed up:  people of every sexual orientation, Jews of every denomination (including the unaffiliated), non-Jews, atheists, old people, young people, white people, Latino people, African Americans.  Rally speakers included a lesbian rabbi (Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum), an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum), an Israeli nonprofit executive (Idit Klein) and a gay union leader (Stuart Appelbaum).  We were endorsed by synagogues large and small, queer and AIDS-related activist groups, hospitals, arts youth groups, community centers, etc.

Together, in solidarity, we demanded an immediate end to anti-LGBT rhetoric spoken “in God’s name.”  We vowed that we would no longer stand idly by when we personally heard such hateful speech.  We proved that there is strength through community.  This community will rise up again and again, growing larger and more diverse, into a mass movement affirming that HATE IS THE ABOMINATION: NOT QUEER PEOPLE.

In God’s Name – Hate Is the Abomination from David Wallace on Vimeo.

Endorsing Partners:  Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), Keshet, Storahtelling, Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Jewish Chicks Rock, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, Nehirim, The Power, Project ACHIEVE & Columbia University Medical Center

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GUEST POST: Mountaineers Deliver Message to Senator Manchin

The following is a guest post from U.S. Army Veteran and repeal advocate Pepe Johnson:

Today Jared Towner and I carried hundreds of petitions and individual letters to the office of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III calling on him to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Fairness WV created an election petition Monday morning and in less than 36 hours gathered the names of hundreds of Mountaineers who support integrity and equality in our armed forces. On top of the petition were added numerous handwritten letters from more constituents collected by various volunteers including the WVU Young Democrats.

As I printed the petitions out the night before I was moved. There were names from all over the Mountain State – from Shepherdstown to Bluefield, over to Logan, up the Ohio River Valley to Ripley, Wellsburg and Newell, into the heart of the mountains in Elkins, and across the central and southern part of the state picking up places like Sutton, Hinton, Craigsville, Poca and too many mountain hometowns to mention in this blog post.

I recognized some of the names, too. There were elementary school teachers and high school principals, doctors and nurses, ministers, department store clerks and oil field workers. And a lot of veterans – people I’ve met along the journey we’ve taken in West Virginia for DADT this year. There were friends and family – people I’ve known all my life and new friends I’ve made.

Across this state there are people that truly believe in our state’s motto and believe it applies to everyone – including LGBT Mountaineers. We took their message to Senator Manchin today and we’ll continue to remind him that “Mountaineers are always free.”

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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GUEST POST: Organizing Repeal in the Frontier State

The following is a guest post from Elias Rojas, Board Chair for Alaskans Together for Equality:

It’s winter in Alaska and Alaskans Together for Equality Inc., Alaska’s statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organization and the Human Rights Campaign have been working hard to organize the LGBT, progressive and moderate Republican community in Alaska to secure two affirming votes from both Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Last week we achieved some success!  We’ve successfully convinced both Senator Murkowski and Senator Begich to vote in favor of repealing DADT. It’s a big step in the right direction but now we need to continue our work to ensure a vote on the repeal of DADT before the session ends. Though our joint efforts, we mobilized dozens of veterans to contact Sen. Murkowski and generated more than 500 phone calls and letters to the Senator asking her to support repeal.

Senator Murkowski has been fairly supportive when it has come to legislation impacting the Alaska LGBT community. She recently supported the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the Senate and just came out in favor of repealing DADT this past week. Senator Begich continues to be an unwavering ally.

We are cautiously optimistic that both our Senators will do what it takes to repeal this discriminatory law. We hope that Senator Murkowski does what she can to vote in favor of this legislation. It’s looking promising that Alaska will be able to deliver two votes for repeal.

As our organizing continues for the next couple of weeks, Alaskans Together for Equality Inc. and the Alaska LGBT community would like to thank the Human Rights Campaign for sending Tony Wagner, HRC Regional Field Director, to Alaska in early November to help kick start our lobbying efforts. He has been instrumental in providing technical assistance to help our members coordinate our statewide lobbying efforts.

In solidarity,

Elias Rojas
Board Chair
Alaskans Together for Equality Inc.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Guest column by Jim Neal – DADT: Behind the Scenes

Friend of the Blend, former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal (D-NC) wanted to share his latest piece on DADT with the coffeehouse. It’s a peek behind the political curtain…

DADT: Behind the Scenes

By Jim Neal

Given my overexposure to US politics and the lessons gleaned from my unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate in 2008, I now get to be soothsayer of sorts. I advise clients on how certain legislation of interest is likely to exit the Congress. What I do is piece the mosaic together in a similar fashion to how a detective investigates a murder.

The public, even most of those supposedly in-the-know, often don’t grasp the dynamics of political inside baseball. The best illustration is how people interpret roll call votes. The overwhelming majority of pundits and activists assess a politician’s vote on a piece of legislation with the strict constructionism of a Justice Scalia. In reality, roll call votes are quite deceptive and misleading. Today’s murder of DADT by the Senate is a case in point.

A strict interpretation of the 57-40 roll call vote to proceed to debate over repealing DADT suggests that if Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.) and Blanche Lincoln (D- Ark.) been present and voted Aye- bumping that tally to 59- then Senator Scott Brown might have felt pressure to get in line, given his expressed public support for repeal of DADT and upcoming re-election bid. That scenario seems all the more probable given the biggest surprise of the day. Senator Susan Collins (R- Maine), who had agreed to support repeal of DADT only in the event that four days were allotted for a full debate, apparently abandoned that position and voted in favor of repeal.

That yarn is simply not the reality. The cloture motion was doomed from the moment Speaker Reid impulsively decided to bring the vote before the Senate today. Here’s the real skinny as best I can piece it together.

Senator Collins did not soften her conditions. She was able to make a symbolic Aye vote because she knew — as did others — that she had cover from her Republican colleagues, either or both of Senators Murkowski and Brown. In turn, Speaker Reid cared less about how the arch-conservative Senator Manchin voted. It didn’t matter. The Speaker wanted to clear the docket and get DADT out of the way. Other legislation in the pipeline takes priority, namely the tax cut bill and ratification of the START Treaty.

As for Senator Lincoln, she was at a dental appointment . What has gone unsaid is that she also wasn’t aware that Speaker Reid was bringing the cloture motion before the Senate today. That is the only reason she wasn’t present. She wasn’t needed. If she were, the  vote would have been delayed.

With that as a backdrop, the drama will now move forward with a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT to be sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Collins and Udall (D- Colo.). Using a Senate procedure known as Rule 14, Speaker Reid can bring the legislation directly to the floor and bypass the Armed Services Committee.

Any hope of repealing DADT under a prospective Lieberman bill will require very tight coordination and communication between Senators Collins, Lieberman and their caucuses. Clearly there will have to be ample time allotted for GOP Senators to excoriate the legislation. However, this bill has no future if the Senate does not stay in session beyond December 17th as is currently planned.

Most Senators are anxious to get home and open Christmas presents and toast the New Year. They need to consider the peoples’ business first. Given that the President has effectively ceded control of the Senate calendar to the GOP via his so-called compromise framework on tax cut legislation, Democrats have no choice but to roll with the punches. That will require Speaker Reid to keep the Senate in session for as long as it takes. Only then might Senator Collins- with Senators Murkowski and Brown covering her back- take center stage as the Diva of DADT.

I hope that I will hear the Lady from Maine sing by the end of this session. Talk about an operatic production….

Follow Jim Neal on Twitter:

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Guest column by David Mixner – DADT: The Ultimate American Tragedy

DADT: The Ultimate American Tragedy

by David Mixner, Live from Hell’s Kitchen

My policy generally is not to write or speak while angry. Anger has a tendency to blur my ability to think rationally. But quite honestly at this moment I have no desire to be rational. The failure of the United States Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” yet again is an American tragedy. Yesterday, our elected officials continued their path of shame on this issue by failing to join the rest of the civilized world in allowing members of the LGBT community to serve their country honorably. What a disgrace.

Despite efforts to make this vote about procedures and politics, every one of us know this vote was about freedom and justice. Most importantly it was about the right of every American citizen to serve their country with honor and dignity.

Absolutely pay no attention to those who talk about procedures and the need for more debate. That is just total nonsense and doesn’t hold up no matter how you examine it. These senators have had nearly 18 years and over 14,000 discharges to figure out this policy. They have had their impact study. The Pentagon has signed off in favor of changing this policy. There have been numerous hearings and more information disseminated on this issue than any sane person can consume in a lifetime. Those who hold up the smoke screen of procedures are hiding behind a cloud of politics are simply cowards or homophobia – or both.

Make no mistake about it. Those are the only two options at this stage.

First the White House with support of our national organizations have made a horrible strategic mistake in not voting on this issue in the first year of the Presidency. They should be held accountable in some form. We would have not had Senator Kirk (R-Ill), Senator Manchin (D-WVa) or Senator Brown (R-Mass) voting “no” because all those votes would have been “yes” from the previous senators who held those seats. Those votes would have been Byrd (D-WVa), Burris (D-Illinois) and either Kennedy/Kirk (Democrats from Massachusetts). That would have given us sixty and maybe even an extra vote or so.

Second, thank you for Senator Susan Collins for being the sole vote from the Republican Party. You gave us a lot of grief in leading up to the vote but in the end you did the right thing. And despite my differences with Senator Lieberman, he deserves enormous thanks for fighting hard for the passage of DADT. He has not given up yet and there is still an outside shot we might succeed.

Third, there should be a special place in hell for Senator Brown of Massachusetts and Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Both represent states that are overwhelmingly for repeal of DADT. The LGBT community and our allies should throw everything we have to defeat them in the next election. Fight Back USA? Like Fight Back New York we should hand them their walking papers. No one should contribute any funds to any group that will contribute to Democratic Senator Manchin of West Virginia. We should never forget his betrayal. Finally Senator Lincoln was at the dentist. I guess every reason we challenged her in the primary proved to be true.

Fourth, the vote was a cloture vote and not one on DADT. Why don’t we add it as an amendment to the President’s compromise keeping the Bush Tax Cuts and let us filibuster until it is added and passed! Let the Republicans explain to the CEO’s why their hatred of the LGBT community is holding up their tax breaks. Let’s give them hell. Let’s fight back and not roll over one more time and take another blow to our dignity and honor.

America had another dark moment in its history yesterday. However, the LGBT community will never give up no matter what the odds, how dark and how many obstacles placed in our way. We will fight in the courts. We will fight in the streets. We will fight at the ballot box. We will fight in our neighborhoods, schools and religious institutions. This much is certain – we will fight and we will win. Nothing you can do will stop our inevitable march to freedom.

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