BY Patrick Guerriero
September 09 2009 8:00 AM ET
From women’s suffrage to civil rights for African-Americans, history teaches that state victories come first and only later translate to federal change. Most politicians, especially at the federal level, don’t lead -- they follow. And that means the first step in winning full federal equality is continuing to score meaningful state-level wins.
We learned hard lessons in the 1990s -- chiefly, that we cannot be passive bystanders expecting Congress and the White House to act on our behalf. We will not repeat those mistakes. Polling shows dramatic increases in public support, and we have a president who has promised action, but that’s not enough. While there are differences between state and federal work, the focused approach that’s winning on the state level will succeed if activated federally.
First, we expect legislative action, not just cocktail party invitations from Democrats and Republicans who want our votes and money. We should give political support and contributions only to candidates and organizations that deliver on the promises they make. Those who courageously lead on our behalf should be supported fully. That’s why not a single state legislator -- of either political party -- who voted for marriage equality has lost his or her political office as a result. Similarly, we need to be “career counselors” to bad officials and help them find a new line of work! We should replace those who break their campaign promises or file anti-LGBT bills just as we have done with Danny and Marilyn.
Second, we should not push any one of us off of the equality train. Transgender Americans are often the most likely to face discrimination, and we must be united in this effort. If state legislators in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Rhode Island can pass transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination bills, there’s no excuse to divide our community when we fight for equality in Washington, D.C.
Third, the greatest hope we have for reaching full national equality is a new generation of activists. It’s time we welcome and support new and unapologetic leadership into our movement. This new generation of LGBT and allied student leaders, elected officials, bloggers, protesters, community organizers, and LGBT parents is ready to take our movement across the finish line. That raw passion will only continue to grow in the federal battles ahead.
Fourth, if we ever want full equality, we need to become a more bipartisan movement. There’s no such thing as a permanent majority for either party. And when control flips back, we must not be in the position of losing all our hard-won gains. Former vice president Cheney, John McCain’s campaign manager Steve Schmidt, and conservative legal giant Ted Olson have all come out in support of marriage equality. We also need to respect the political diversity of LGBT Americans, including those who share conservative positions on taxes and foreign policy.
Fifth, we can’t afford to live in political silos. We have an important voice in the ongoing debates over health care, education, energy, and immigration. Issues such as access to health care, HIV funding and prevention, and disparities in education cut across multiple demographics. Our allies will know whether we watch from the sidelines or engage in those battles. African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans continue to face significant economic and social justice issues. In addition to strengthening our own organizations serving people of color, we must support broader communities of color as partners in the equality movement, not just as a voting bloc in an exit poll. If we want their support on our issues, we have to be there for them.
And finally, we must stop arranging ourselves in a circular LGBT firing squad. There are better places to aim–and we’ve got a list. While it’s important to hold each other accountable, every moment spent attacking ourselves and our organizations is a moment not focused on advancing equality. Progress in the states has come from a multifaceted approach utilizing hard-core electoral work, grassroots organizing, aggressive legislative lobbying, smart litigation, and direct conversations with the voting public -- tasks that require teamwork.