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Setting the
Agenda ... the Gay One 

Setting the
Agenda ... the Gay One 


COMMENTARY: Prior to the election of Barack Obama, the gay rights agenda risked becoming nothing more than a wish list. But after nearly 30 years during which no major piece of gay rights legislation has been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president, it is time to make a a real push for true equality. Our time at the back of the bus must end. Now.

The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States marks the end of an unlikely journey to transform the American political scene. In just over four years, Obama went from an unknown Senate candidate to a master of oratory. Now he's the most powerful man in the world. Along the way, he vanquished one of the most formidable political giants of modern politics: Hillary Clinton.

It remains to be seen what change under Barack Obama will really mean. But with a margin of victory for a presidential candidate not seen in decades and an expanded Democratic majority in Congress, we can bet that some measure of change is assured.

Prior to his election the gay rights agenda risked becoming nothing more than a wish list. While gains made on the state level are meaningful and serve to build momentum, they will ultimately be only tokens of equality without securing a majority on the Supreme Court to uphold the promise of the words written by Thomas Jefferson that "all men are created equal." Obama's election greatly increases the likelihood of that happening.

In the meantime, it's come to the point where we must see action by Congress toward meeting the goals of our movement for equality. The Human Rights Campaign Fund began in 1980 with the purpose of lobbying Congress for this very reason. Since then, no major piece of legislation has been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. On the contrary, we have seen a ban on gays in the military and the Defense of Marriage Act passed. Our only successful defensive maneuver was to prevent the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Given our record, a change in strategy is warranted. The "stay the course" crowd's response to this is usually a "let's wait our turn" attitude. Our time at the back of the bus must end. Now.

There are tens of thousands of married couples. Our people serve at the highest levels of government. LGBT money is a major source of funding for politics and our economy. Corporate America treats us more equally than the laws of our country, as do our children. Thus we are reminded on a daily basis that prejudice and discrimination are not inherent -- they are taught and regularly used as weapons of fear.

Throughout the Democratic primary season, we saw major movement on the positions taken by the candidates. Never before had candidates supported so many pieces of legislation that we desire to see become law: hate crimes, repeal of the ban on gays in the military, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of DOMA, gay-friendly immigration reform, and civil unions.

So now we find ourselves fresh off an amazingly historic election, the second in which Democrats made major gains in the Congress. Surely, we are on the cusp of major progress. Well, not so fast.

A recent meeting of advocacy groups in Washington consisted of talking about the same old tired proposals and in which order they would be prioritized. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin had a list that was discussed. The same with congressman Barney Frank.

It seems as if the establishment of our movement missed the big idea of this election: Change has arrived. So it's time we change the ask -- both what we are asking for and how we ask.

From here, until we are granted all of the same rights and privileges that every other citizen of the United States enjoy, we will not ask politely. We will insist.

Rather than ask for a version of ENDA that is vastly watered down from the version originally introduced by representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch 30 years ago, we will honor their leadership and ourselves by insisting that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This will grant sweeping protections enjoyed by other minorities in America, in employment, credit, and housing, among other fields.

Instead of settling for one piece of legislation at a time, we will insist that a larger agenda be addressed. It is an agenda that is in the greatest tradition of our nation: making people equal. We've done it for African-Americans and women. It's time for this history to catch up to our movement.

We are the only major power in the world that does not recognize these tenets of basic equality. We are also the only one of these nations to have elected a black man president. If we can do that, we can surely provide for civil equality for all of our citizens.

If this ask is not reasonable, I challenge our advocacy organizations to explain why. After hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the last 30 years, there is little progress to show in the arena of equal rights. Conversely, there are far more barriers than existed 30 years ago.

It's time that we have an agenda that represents the time in which we live. I am hopeful that our community will embrace such an agenda and demand it from those who enjoy the largess of our financial support: politicians, organizations, and businesses.

Only when we see progress can we believe what we are told. Only when we see full equality can we rest.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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