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Obama Rolls Out
More LGBT Supporters

Obama Rolls Out
More LGBT Supporters


The Obama campaign aims to target specific sectors of the LGBT community to improve his odds in the remaining primaries.

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign rolled out a new swath of 40 national LGBT supporters, adding to the original list of about 60 queer supporters it announced last year. (The new list is available at the end of this article).

"This continues to show the momentum that the Obama camp is demonstrating in all different slices of the electorate," said Eric Stern, who has been actively courting gays and lesbians to join the Obama team.

Stern said the new additions would be reaching out to people based on their particular spheres of influence - be they elected officials, transgender activists, or union leaders. "This isn't just a list," he said, "it's a group of individuals, all of whom are highly skilled and bring a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge to the campaign."

Not feeling like a number is exactly what swayed Donna Rose, a transgender leader and former Clinton supporter, to make the jump to Obama just this week. Rose signed on to the Clinton campaign last March when the race was just revving up. But when she offered input to the campaign, she felt like it fell on deaf ears.

"I have not really felt that the team was very engaged," said Rose. "I didn't see any impact on the messaging."

Obama first caught her attention after the Logo/Human Rights Campaign debate last summer. "After the debate was over, I got a personal thank you note from one candidate, and that was Senator Obama," said Rose, who was a member of HRC's board of directors at the time. "Sometimes, it's the little things that make a difference."

Rose did not single out Obama for specific stances on trans rights, saying she doesn't typically make distinctions between transgender rights and the broader slate of LGBT rights. But she hopes to offer her insights to the campaign moving forward and is even angling for a personal phone call from the senator, even if it is only two or three minutes.

"I think it's really important to acknowledge that a presidential candidate in this country can take some time out of his schedule to have a discussion with a visible and proud member of the transgender community," she said.

Rose's yearning to get involved is the very reason Missouri state representative Jeanette Mott Oxford, another new endorser, was persuaded to support Obama.

Originally, she was so pleased with the entire field of Democratic candidates that she wasn't going to endorse anyone. "But I watched what was going on around me and the kind of excitement that he generated in such a diverse group of people," said Oxford, ticking off a list that included her 60-year-old knee surgeon, a mid-20s social work student she knows, and the kids - mostly African-American - she reads to at the elementary schools in her district. "Folks just really want to engage in the process of making the country a better place. They're saying, 'Obama, I want to work with you to fix it.' That's the kind of impulse that I want to nurture because I want to be part of that movement toward citizen involvement."

Oxford, a passionate advocate for the poor and a former organizer for welfare rights, has a fondness for getting people involved. At the end of the day, she believes grassroots organizing is the hard work that can help overturn something like the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states to ignore marriages that are legally performed in another state. Changing something like DOMA, she says, can only happen from the ground up.

Asked if it was politically feasible for Obama to deliver on his stance for full repeal of DOMA, she said, "He's an old community organizer and he knows that it's not always time to try to make a bill move and that you have to build power." But, she noted, one has to articulate that vision in order to move people. That's where Obama differs from Clinton, who supports repealing the plank of DOMA that prohibits federal recognition of gay marriage but leaving in place the states' rights to self-determination on marriage.

DOMA also moves Jeremy Bishop. As executive director of LGBT union advocacy group Pride at Work, Bishop views DOMA as one of the major hurdles preventing blue-collar gays and lesbians from getting access to health and pension benefits. "I think that's important when you're looking at working-class people who don't have those benefits and need them to sustain their families," he said. "If you got rid of DOMA, all these different unions and companies who say we can't give benefits because you're not recognized by the federal government, all that would change in a heartbeat."

Bishop, like many LGBT people, was initially disappointed that the Obama campaign included homophobic gospel singer Donnie McClurkin in its gospel tour through South Carolina.

"But you can kind of tell someone's merits by what they say to rooms that are not friendly to [a gay] audience," he said, adding that Obama has regularly challenged the African-American church on homophobia.

In terms of outreach, Bishop has been working on some op-eds for inclusion in papers such as The Southern Voice and The Washington Blade. His ties also run deep in the labor community, though he is careful to note that the 7,000-member Pride at Work has not endorsed a candidate.

Nonetheless, Bishop's support can't hurt in states that are union-heavy, and he counts Pennsylvania among one of the five states with the densest Pride at Work membership.

Pennsylvania, the next massive primary prize with 188 delegates, will vote on April 22, and it is considered Clinton country - the New York senator is leading in all recent polls by anywhere from five to 15 points and has the key support of Gov. Ed Rendell and Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter.

"We face an uphill battle in Pennsylvania," Stern acknowledged.

That's where Stern hopes someone like Stephen Glassman, the highest-ranking LGBT official in the state and another new member of Obama's team, can make a difference.

Glassman, who chairs the state's Human Relations Commission, will be heading up LGBT outreach in the state along with Obama LGBT policy director Tobias Wolff, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania battle is already in full swing, with Philadelphia's Liberty City Democratic Club holding its endorsement meeting Tuesday night.

One of the things Glassman has been focused on in the last five years is working with mayors, council members, and county commissioners around the state to enact local nondiscrimination legislation.

"We now have 14 local jurisdictions with nondiscrimination legislation - more local jurisdictions than any other state in the nation," says Glassman. "Those are all logical locations for Obama, every one of those 14, because they are constituencies that are more responsive to Obama's demographic according to what the polling has been telling us from the contests that have already been decided."


List provided by the Obama campaign:

Jeanette Mott Oxford, Missouri state representative, District 59, St. Louis

Wilson Cruz, actor, Los Angeles

Kevin Jennings, founder and executive director, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

Donna Rose, former board member of the Human Rights Campaign; former member of the Hillary Clinton for President LGBT Steering Committee; transgender activist

Jeremy Bishop, executive director, Pride at Work (AFL-CIO)

Ian Palmquist, executive director, Equality North Carolina; immediate past chair, Equality Federation

Jo Kenny, development director, Pride at Work (AFL-CIO)

Stephen Glassman, chairman, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

Hans Johnson, president of Progressive Victory

Craig Bowman, former executive director of National Youth Advocacy Coalition

Donna Cartwright, communications director, Pride at Work (AFL-CIO)

Perry Nelson, founder, Gateway Stonewall Democrats (St. Louis)

Ben Turner, cofounder and former cochair of the Capital Region Stonewall Democrats (Harrisburg, Pa.)

Robert Perez, public relations executive and former Washington press secretary for Kerry-Edwards

Judy Chambers, cofounder and former cochair of the Capital Region Stonewall Democrats (Harrisburg, Pa.)

Conrado Terrazas, political field director for SEIU 1000 (Calif.)

Lisa Hazirjian, visiting professor, Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.)

Gregg Gallo, National Stonewall Democrats board member (Wash.)

Anita Latch, Washington State Stonewall Democrats president

Jenny Durkan, Washington John Edwards for President state chair (2004 & 2008)

Krista Strothmann, Baltimore chapter of Pride at Work (AFL-CIO)

John Klenert, campaign board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and member of board of directors for DC Vote

Marti Abernathy, transgender advocate (Indiana)

Joe Darby, vice president, Pride at Work (AFL-CIO), Lansing, Mich.

Randall Ellis, former executive director of Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas

Andres Duque, LGBT activist (N.Y.)

Gary Fitzsimmons, Dallas County district clerk (Texas)

Tim Downing, member of board of directors for Human Rights Campaign (Ohio)

Christina Ocasio, transgender activist; 2004 delegate to the DNC Convention (Texas)

Dyshaun Muhammad, former GLBT caucus chair, Young Democrats of America; former political chair of Twin Cities HRC Steering Committee (Minn.)

Pauline Park, chair, New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy

Glen Maxey, former Texas state representative (first openly gay member)

Marti Bier, former field director for PFLAG

Doug Lakey, director of West Coast Office of Alliance for Justice; former development director for the Human Rights Campaign

Terry Penrod, member of board of directors for Human Rights Campaign (Ohio)

David Pena Jr., executive director, National Hispanic Business Association

John McClelland, president, Denton County Stonewall Democrats (Texas)

Joe Lacey, Dayton (Ohio) board of education member

Tony Ballis, president, Dayton (Ohio) Stonewall Democrats

Noel Alicea, LGBT activist (N.Y.)

(Organizations listed for identification purposes only.)

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