Former gay rights leader Jacques speaks out
January 08 2005 1:00 AM ET
Cheryl Jacques, who resigned in November as head of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign amid rumors that she was asked to leave, told The Boston Globe on Thursday that gay
rights activists should not back down from their goal of gaining full marriage rights for same-sex couples despite the electoral defeats of November 2. The interview was the first time that Jacques had spoken publicly in five weeks. She predicted that opponents of same-sex marriage would continue to use the issue to portray supporters as out of the mainstream, even if gays stop pushing for marriage rights. "If we all take a vow of silence and never mention gay marriage again, do you really think George Bush is not going to raise the Federal Marriage Amendment again?" she told the Globe. "They're going to use that issue whether we vow never to touch it or not. It's...silly...to believe that somehow our enemies, those who support discrimination, are going to play by the rules and not raise the issue if we don't."
Jacques, a former state senator from Needham, Mass., was dropped as head of the nation's largest gay rights group on November 30. Some speculated that resounding victories for the opponents of gay rights on Election Day spurred HRC's board to ask Jacques to leave. But those rumors have been soundly denied by all involved. Instead, a "difference in management philosophy" was cited as the reason for Jacques's having served only one year of a three-year contract.
Supporters of Jacques also said she parted ways with the organization because of her belief that marriage should continue to be the group's focus. In the interview, Jacques reasserted her support for full marriage rights for gays and lesbians. "The gay rights movement...is at a crossroads, and a crossroads that those who have come before us have been at, with some saying we should retreat,
should accept responsibility for our setbacks, trim our sails," she said. "And I wholeheartedly disagree with that. We plant the flag of full equality, and we march steadily toward it, and that's a long, hard road. You never ever give up the pursuit of full equality."
Jacques would not speak specifically about her tenure at the campaign or about the organization in general, citing an agreement made at the time of her departure. However, she said that some in the movement "are not thinking confidently and learning the lessons of the nation's history--that when you stumble, you pick yourself up and keep marching on, and you never apologize for or retreat
from the goal of full equality. There is a minority of voices who somehow think that we should retreat."
Jacques, who served as a state senator for 12 years before leaving Massachusetts to head the 600,000-member Human Rights Campaign, would not say what her plans are now or whether she would leave Maryland to return to her home state. She said she is exploring opportunities around the country and that she wants to continue to be involved in the push for same-sex marriage. "I am interested in exploring any opportunity, public or private, that will allow me to serve the public and continue to maintain a strong voice in the national debate on gay rights," she said. Jacques, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2001, also said she might consider another run for office.