A group of gay Democrats plan to gather in Providence, R.I., this week for their biennial national gathering, and a number of attendees will be preparing for the Democratic National Convention, where they will nominate what the organization's head called the most gay-friendly candidate in the party's history. The Stonewall Democrats' 2004 convention begins Thursday evening and will bring an expected 300 participants to Rhode Island's capital for a slate of workshops, training sessions, and special events. Dave Noble, executive director of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Democrats' organization, said gay marriage and the Senate's recent decision to block a constitutional amendment banning such unions are expected to be focal points at the convention. "We're going to celebrate that the Democrats stood together against the amendment," he said. "We're also going to be uniting for the challenges ahead."
Noble said that while the organization is disappointed with presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry's stance on gay marriage in Massachusetts, the group supports his candidacy. Kerry endorsed amending the Massachusetts state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. The state began permitting same-sex marriage in May after its highest court ruled the constitution did not prohibit the granting of marriage licenses to gay couples. But the Massachusetts senator supports civil unions, opposed amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay marriage, and was one of just 14 senators to
oppose the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, which denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to ignore same-sex unions licensed elsewhere.
"John Kerry is by far the most pro-LGBT candidate that our party has ever nominated," Noble said. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, has endorsed Kerry, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has called Kerry and running mate John Edwards "the most gay-supportive national ticket in American history."
Stonewall Democrats attending the Democratic convention in Boston as delegates will be looking to educate their colleagues about the group's concerns, Noble said. There are several training sessions targeted at delegates to the DNC, but Noble said they are less about lobbying and more about helping the delegates to conduct their own networking and to be effective convention participants. The Stonewall convention, which is expected to be twice as large this year as any previous event, is also drawing some high-profile Democrats. Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe is scheduled to attend a Thursday evening reception. The Democratic members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation--Reps. Jim Langevin and Patrick Kennedy and Sen. Jack Reed--are slated to speak. The keynote speaker at Saturday's Labor Lunch is Nancy Wohlforth, secretary-treasurer of the Office and Professional Employees International Union.
Noble said in presidential election years, the group tries to hold its national convention in a city near the DNC site, so those attending both can make a single trip. He said several New England municipalities tried to attract the Stonewall convention, but Providence mayor David Cicilline did a good job selling the group's board on Rhode Island's capital. Cicilline, who said he called each of the board members individually, said between staff and conference-goers and their family and friends, the event should bring about 1,000 people to Providence. He did not provide any estimate of the money the convention would generate but said "the impact will be substantial."
Cicilline said he hopes those who attend the Stonewall convention and continue on to the Democratic convention in Boston will talk up the city, helping to bring DNC delegates to Rhode Island. Since it was announced that the DNC would be held in Boston, Rhode Island officials have been working to capture a piece of the tourist business the convention will generate. Noble, who is a Rhode Island native, said the Stonewall Democrats are proud of Cicilline, who is openly gay and a Democrat, and want to celebrate him as an example of what gay public leaders can accomplish. The Stonewall Democrats have 90 chapters in 41 states, including a recently established one in Rhode Island.