Next week in Washington I'm hosting an LGBT Leadership Town Hall which will be broadcast live nationwide on my radio program on Sirius XM and streamed online. The Path Forward, as the title of the event suggests, will look at the critical next several weeks and months in Washington at a time when many gay, lesbian and transgender people are frustrated with the pace in the Beltway, and are often critical about how their own leaders have engaged the White House and Capitol Hill.
Call it an emergency summit meeting, trying to get at what LGBT leaders have done, what can be done and what people should expect at a time when many believe Democrats have wasted much capital and may lose seats in Congress, perhaps stalling the gay rights movement for years to come.
President Obama's order this week to extend visitation rights in hospitals to partners of gay and transgender people was a welcome advance. And he did it literally with a few strokes of a pen, writing a memo to the Health and Human Services secretary. That underscores the fact that it could have and should have been done in February of 2009. The president has said he is a "fierce advocate" for LGBT rights, after all, and anyone so committed would have done whatever he could as soon as possible.
The president instead issued this order over a year later, on the very day that he headed to Miami, launching a fundraising campaign to raise money for Democrats in the mid-term elections. Gays have been a loyal constituency that has donated much to the Democrats, and some of us are boycotting the DNC because of the sluggish pace on LGBT rights, particularly on don't ask, don't tell repeal, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage act. A lot of people are wondering if Obama's hospital visitation announcement -- which did not offer any new rights of any kind -- is in fact all that is coming in 2010, as he has not pushed Congress for a repeal of DADT this year and hasn't spoken out on ENDA either.
And that's why I'm hosting this town hall in Washington, to talk about where things stand and how to move forward. On the panel will be Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign; Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality; Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; blogger and activist Pam Spaulding of PamsHouseBlend.com; Aubrey Sarvis of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network; and Richard Socarides, former advisor to Bill Clinton on gay rights.
Since literally the first day that president took office, with the Rick Warren controversy, there has been disappointment that boiled over into anger on several occasions, such as when the Department of Justice filed it's heinous Defense of Marriage Act brief in June 2009. The problem is with Congress as well, which has dragged its feet. A hate crimes bill that languished for over a decade finally passed last year but it was long overdue. A vote in the house on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act may finally happen in coming days - at least that's what we're told - but it has been promised since last summer. In the Senate, the prospects for ENDA are apparently not good. And the president isn't using his bully pulpit to push for it.
The same is true on "don't ask, don't tell" repeal. The White House has sent conflicting messages, with the president announcing his desire to repeal the law and the Pentagon launching a study on implementation. But the White House hasn't publicly called on Congress for a vote this year, before the mid-term elections when Democrats could lose seats, putting any vote on repeal off for years. And repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act - another campaign promise from the president - isn't even on the radar.
Throughout the past year and half LGBT leaders have sent conflicting messages as well, often praising the White House while, to some of us, not pressuring the White House hard enough on demanding votes from Congress.
So on Thursday of next week, from 2-4 ET, we'll be hashing it out at a town hall that will be aired across the country on Sirius 109, and XM 98, as well as online at Sirius.com. We'll be taking questions from the studio audience and from listeners on the phones and it will surely be a lively and spirited discussion. Hopefully, by the end, we'll have a bit of clarity on that path forward.
Author and columnist Michelangelo Signorile is the host of "The Michelangelo Signorile Show," which airs weekdays, 2-6 ET, on Sirius XM's OutQ, Sirius 109, XM 98. He can reached at www.signorile.com
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