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What Does Solidarity Look Like in 2011?

December 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Back in July, I wrote about then recent observations of the relationship between the Latino and the LGBT communities. The observations were made while attending Netroots Nation and I was feeling especially hopeful that both communities were genuinely interested in building a bridge to each other, especially since this was the first real overture I had ever witnessed from the LGBT movement to address its abysmal record on diversity and outreach to people of color.  At a day-long LGBT pre-conference event, immigration was a breakout subject all its own and many of the attendees talked at length about the need for the LGBT rights movement to stand in solidarity with the fight for fair and just immigration reform. Recognizing the secret life and the kind of closet undocumented immigrants live in seemed to resonate with the largely white, gay male bloggers who were in attendance.  Witnessing these activists having robust conversations about how both movements can join forces in order to affect greater and more positive change was an encouraging sign that things were about to change going forward.

Of course, this was months before the devastating mid-term elections and the historic lame-duck Congressional work session that had everyone biting their nails in anticipation. This was before political maneuvering cast doubt on the passage of the DREAM Act (important to the Latino community) and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (important to the LGBT community). And, it was before the U.S. Senate dashed any hopes that these two communities could work together, as it did when the august body scheduled both DREAM and DADT repeal for votes in the last remaining weeks of the session. In a Congress that was as politically charged and partisan as this one, it seemed nearly impossible to ask the Senate to consider (gasp!) two difficult votes that would mean a great deal to both communities fighting for them. Suffice it to say that all that talk of building bridges and standing strong together went out the window as both communities galvanized their networks for the fight that lay before them.

We all know what has happened since then. The DREAM Act and Latinos got the shaft and DADT repeal passed and was subsequently signed into law just days later. The president says he is confident repeal will happen in a matter of months, not years, and before long the United States will join the rest of the developed world in its attitude toward LGB men and women in the armed forces. This is fantastic news and, while I’m still a vocal critic of the military who has many reservations about a standing army, I recognize what this means in the name of advancing equality and I wholeheartedly welcome the change.

Now that repeal has happened, however, I’m wondering if there is still interest in the LGBT community to restart that conversation that was started last July. It is pretty clear now that the LGBT rights movement is not going to have any other legislative victories akin to the repeal of DADT anytime soon. True, the president has said that he wants to see DOMA repealed but that’s a two to four year time frame we’re talking about and the reality is that the movement shouldn’t really expect to see the White House or the Congress do much to advance its issues in the next two years.

Given that reality, I humbly suggest that the LGBT rights movement do everything it can to continue that show of solidarity with the Latino community and pour energy into getting the next Congress to make the DREAM Act a reality. Now, I don’t think that we should rest on our laurels with the DADT repeal. We should continue the fight for equality, but we should also take the opportunity to show to the world just how inclusive and thoughtful the LGBT movement can be. Now is the chance to show Latinos, and indeed all LGBT people of color, that the movement cares about them and values them enough to help them take up arms in the fight against bigotry, racism and xenophobia even if its a fight that will help only a very select group of people. Indeed, the repeal of DADT has no effect on me whatsoever, but I supported the fight nonetheless. So did thousands of the DREAMers (many of which happen to be gay, I might add) who thought it was an unjust law.

Now is the time for the LGBT movement to get involved in the immigration struggle. Just this week, the White House announced an all-out grassroots campaign to get Congress to act on DREAM.

From HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel:

On a conference call with journalists Wednesday (12/22/2010), White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the President is willing to “wage a very public campaign” to push the DREAM Act, which would grant undocumented students who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents a path to citizenship through higher education or military service. He added that grassroots activism will be essential to success.

The emphasis on the last sentence is mine. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years is that LGBT activism is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve seen the intense lobbying, fundraising, and activism efforts the LGBT movement mobilizes when it needs to, and together with the Latino community, we could expose the worst of our national legislators and present a united front in the call for justice and equality. If the LGBT movement really wants to make inroads with the Latino community, it will heed this call and begin to lay the groundwork for the coming fight. And, for all you partisan Dems out there, imagine how the party could capitalize on a united effort between LGBT’s and Latinos working together to fight for immigration reform.

As you can imagine, the Latino community has been working feverishly to plan for the next Congress and it is working with the White House to explore the administrative courses of action available to the president.

As the New York Times put it:

Mr. Obama doesn’t need Congress to curb the Department of Homeland Security, which is deporting at a record pace many of the very people he says deserve a chance to stay. That means reforming Secure Communities, a fingerprinting program that will soon turn every local police department in the country into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a looming disaster for public safety and good policing. He can tell border agents to stop harassing and scaring innocent people.

He can halt deportations of students who would have qualified for the Dream Act, under the time-honored practice of deferred action for those who pose no threat. He can have the Labor Department redouble efforts to expose wage-and-hour violations endemic in the immigrant workplace.

Perhaps most important, he can stop enabling the Republicans who are itching to make things worse. He can defend against the propaganda that all illegal immigrants are by definition a class of criminals instead of people trapped in a web of bad laws, misguided policies and squandered potential. And he can repudiate the myth that all America’s immigration problems will be solved at the Mexican border.

Communities of color, especially LGBT’s, are paying close attention to what the LGBT rights movement does next. Its leaders would do well to show their commitment to communities of color by getting on board with this fight and doing what is right in the name of equality for all.

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Happy Emancipation Day! Happy Visitation Rights Day!

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s only a government holiday for the District of Columbia, but it’s a very special one. It’s also extra awesome since Jim gets the day off as a District government employee.

Emancipation Day in a nutshell:

On April 16, 1862, more than eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln signed the act that freed the slaves in the District, and we mark the day to celebrate freedom and reflect on the unfinished work in the pursuit of equal rights.

It’s an important day for the District especially considering the advancements DC voting rights activists have made in the last few years. The holiday is also especially prescient given the news earlier this week that the DC Voting Rights Act is going to receive a floor vote in the House probably late next week….oh and it will be debated with that wretched gun amendment attached to it, too.

[Del. Eleanor Holmes] Norton said that the bill, which would grant the residents of Washington a voting member of Congress, would include a provision enhancing gun owners’ rights in the District, a measure Norton had resisted including.

I’ve got to hand it to Norton on this one. She has proven to be a highly effective voice for the District on this issue and she has been especially strategic about leveraging the political capital her party in the House gained after the 2006 elections and especially after the 2008 elections.

Together with DC Vote, Norton has put together the first bill in a long time that has any hope of passing. Surely the gun amendment has been a tough pill to swallow and it has definitely split District residents. Personally, I don’t think we should kill this bill because of the amendment. We’ve come too far in this fight and the rest of America lives with the Second Amendment just fine.

As Michael O’Brien of  The Hill writes:

Norton said that the strength of pro-gun rights forces in Congress had only grown over the past year, and with the specter of reduced Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate looming after this fall’s elections, she planned to proceed with her bill anyway.

‘I have given this fight all that I had. There is nothing left to do but make the hard decision,” she said. “I believe residents would not want us to pass up this once-in-a-life-time opportunity for the vote they have sought for more than two centuries.’

I”ll take the vote and once we have it we can lobby our representative to introduce legislation to change this law.

Other happy news today?

Obama has made more inroads with the gay community with his announcement today that any hospital that accepts Medicare and Medicaid funds must not discriminate in its visitation rights policies. It does not only apply to LGBT Americans, but to all Americans.

From the President’s memo to the Department of Health and Human Services:

Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.

The president and his staff worked behind the scenes on this one and it’s an awesome move on the Administration’s part.

Is today’s news foreshadowing of more favorable legislation to come i.e. ENDA, DADT….DOMA?

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Change is Afoot

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

What a difference a week makes.

Just a week after GetEqual’s first direct action, the Pentagon announced today that Sec. Robert Gates is taking “unilateral action” ahead of congressional action in order to relax the enforcement of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

From the Washington Independent:

Gates told senators that he would put together a study group, led by Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham and Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, to study the least-disruptive ways to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

That study hasn’t concluded. Nor has the Senate taken up Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) bill to repeal the ban. But Gates has some unilateral tools at his disposal, and this week he intends to use them.

“He will announce changes to the way the current law is being enforced that make it more difficult to begin investigations and kick people out,” said a defense source who would not speak for the record ahead of Gates’s announcement. Spokesman Geoff Morrell hinted in his briefing yesterday that Gates would make some changes, but did not specify any.

The announcement comes the same day that long-time gay rights activist Cleve Jones, who was instrumental in organizing last October’s National Equality March, published a conciliatory open letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the letter, Jones Jones makes an appeal for Speaker Pelosi’s skills as an artful and persuasive politician and leader.

We’ve seen the passion you’ve brought to the challenge of passing health care reform. Now more than ever, we need your passion and skill to achieve the passage of ENDA.

As you know, many Americans in the LGBT community — especially young people — are increasingly frustrated and cynical about the pace of progress in Washington.

We want you to show them that cynicism is not the response at this time. They need to believe in the process, Madame Speaker, and you can restore their faith in this process by moving expeditiously to bring ENDA to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

It is clear that the gay rights movement has no plans to ease up on its pressure to act on ENDA and DADT this year. I’m not so sure that’s going to happen. House Dems may have been chanting “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” at the health care reform bill signing ceremony, but I’m just not that confident they have it in them to work on immigration and climate change much less ENDA and DADT. I just don’t have that much faith in them, I guess.

Despite that, I still plan to do my part to keep up the pressure. If there’s anything the health care debate has taught us is that for change to happen with this administration and this congress it’s going to take everything your side has for anyone to react.

Choi’s actions were criticized last week by some because of his apparent ignorance to the debate du jour, health care. I think it was smart, though. After all, the Pentagon has not ceased operations because of that debate. In the midst of all the health care craziness were hearings and testimony from military brass before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Each who for the most part were in solidarity on the need to put an end to the inane DADT policy.

Surely Choi’s behavior caught the notice of his superiors who were no doubt put in an ackward situation because of him. Better to just urge Sec. Gates to do something now in order to curb more and more similar actions by other LGBT servicemembers who are certainly growing tired of this policy, too.

I know Congress would like to coast from here on out until November, but the reality is there is still so much more to get done and the community simply must keep vigorously applying the pressure. I am admittedly skeptical to whether Congress will do anything for the rest of the year, but I’ve never wanted to be proven so wrong before.