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Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis Wants To Be Removed From Office. So Be It.

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 1, 2015    2:05 PM ET

It's clear now that Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone because of her religious opposition to marriage equality, is going to be a martyr to the cause. She and her supporters want a photo-op of her perhaps being physically removed from office so they can visually show what they claim is religious "persecution."

And now it's time for those of us who support justice to say, "So be it." We cannot be held hostage to the theatrics of religious extremists, nor should we allow them to think that supposedly bad "optics" will deter us in demanding our rights. Defying the Supreme Court, which refused to grant her a stay as she appeals a ruling ordering her to issue licenses, Davis turned away couples again today. When asked under who's authority she was doing this, she replied, "God's authority," and also said she'd face the "consequences" and told a gay couple they too "will face the consequences when it comes time for judgement."

Some are seeking to get her fined, while the district attorney's office is looking into official misconduct charges and the ACLU filed a motion in federal court seeking to have her held in contempt of the federal judge's original order that she grant marriage licenses.

But none of that will stop Kim Davis and her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel, the anti-gay legal group that has represented her. She's ready to put her job and probably her body on the line, like a fellow clerk who supports her and said he'd "die" for the cause. They'd relish an image of Davis being dragged out of the office, and perhaps facing a fine or time in jail or both. They'll use it to galvanize religious conservatives across the country (who will surely raise money for any fines she incurs) and it will give the GOP something with which to energize evangelical voters.

Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin is already defending Davis and attacking his Democratic opponent for not doing so. As I've noted, GOP presidential candidates, from Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, have been supporting individuals like Davis in their fight for "religious liberty" in the wake of the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling in June. And a bill in Congress introduced by GOP members, the First Amendment Defense Act, seeks to exempt people like Kim Davis from doing their jobs based on religious beliefs.

So, yes, a photo-op will be used to give red meat to the enemies of equality. Nonetheless, it's time that all Americans see the hatred front and center against LGBT people -- and see what people are willing to do in the name of that hate. A friend of mine suggested the "optics"of Davis being removed from office would be bad, and that it's better for the gay couples to stage a sit-in and get arrested, thus showing they truly are the ones being persecuted here. He noted that during the lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement it was those discriminated against who were arrested, an action that further showed the discrimination, and not the owners of the restaurants who were arrested, an action which would have brought those business owners sympathy.

It's a fair point, but all of that happened before civil rights for racial and religious minorities became the law of the land with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Marriage equality now is the law of the land. We should not and cannot worry that it might create backlash with many other Americans if they see Davis, now flagrantly defying a court order, brought to justice, even if means charges are brought against her and her supporters get their photo-op. The moment we pull back, fearful of the supposed ramifications, we are giving fuel to bigots and allowing them to organize further. They'll then have a foothold while we show weakness. The majority of Americans know this is discrimination and are with LGBT people. We must stand strong and demand full equality everywhere.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

How A Kentucky Clerk Became An Ultimate Symbol Of Bigotry

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 28, 2015   10:47 AM ET

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has received international attention for defying the U.S. Supreme Court, is still refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples today, more than two months after the high court's historic ruling in Obergefell.

This, even after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling denying Davis a stay as she fights gay couples suing her for marriage licenses, claiming she has the right to deny them -- as a public servant -- based on her religious beliefs. Defying the appeals court order, she and her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel -- the anti-gay legal group affiliated with the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University -- are instead appealing to the Supreme Court, where they are likely to lose as well.

No matter. Davis is going down as a martyr to the cause, having galvanized bigots and religious extremists across Kentucky and across the country, claiming that their religious freedom has been infringed upon by the Supreme Court's ruling. Thousands turned out for a rally in the Kentucky capital, Frankfort, last weekend, expressing their support for Davis and against homosexuality. They clutched bibles and waved hateful signs condemning homosexuality. "An illustrated poster with the words 'first the baker, then the clerk, next the pastors' was plastered to a Capitol wall," reported the Daily Independent.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis (no relation to Kim Davis) has been on a bike ride across the state in support of the Rowan County clerk, doing interviews along the way and saying he is ready to "die" for the cause of discrimination.

"It's a war on Christianity," he said in one radio interview. "If it takes it, I will go to jail over -- if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have, I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do."

If the Supreme Court denies Kim Davis's stay the ball is back in a federal judge's court. Because she is an elected official, only the legislature can remove her in an impeachment, which no one expects to happen. But Daniel J. Canon, one of the attorneys for the couples who filed suit to get their marriage licenses, told me that "she could be removed if she were criminally prosecuted for something," which would mean the judge finding her in contempt of his order and possibly even sending her to jail (as unlikely as that might be).

That is exactly what Davis -- and the Republican Party -- would relish. At the rally over the weekend, Matt Bevin, a Republican running for the Kentucky governorship, cheered the crowd on, telling them that "religious liberties are being oppressed," and clearly seeing the issue as a great one for his campaign.

And that is true of the GOP presidential candidates, desperate to find issues to galvanize religious conservatives. "Religious liberty" is a term Jeb Bush has invoked several times in the context of gay rights, and Ted Cruz has been stoking the issue for months, claiming Christians are under attack. As I've written in weeks past, it's clear that the issue is being carefully developed by GOP leaders in Congress as a campaign issue to energize evangelical voters. A bill introduced by Republicans in the House and the Senate earlier in the year, the First Amendment Defense Act, proposes, among other things, to exempt people like Kim Davis from issuing marriage licenses if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Davis will lose her battle in coming days. But GOP leaders in Washington and across the country, heading into a political campaign, will take that as a win.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Step Aside, San Francisco: "SF" Now Stands for Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Anneli Rufus   |   August 27, 2015    2:15 PM ET

All those things that everyone loves about the famous, jaded, sea-beaten SF (and more!) can also be found in a fresh, friendly, affordable Midwestern SF: Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

One's hilly. One's flat. Both are beautiful. And you'll never believe how much they have in common.

Forbes has identified Sioux Falls as the fastest-growing metro area in the Midwest and ranked it third in 2015's "Best Small Places for Businesses and Careers" list; USA Today deems Sioux Falls' economy the nation's fourth fastest-rising.

San Francisco is starting to hear footsteps creeping up behind it.

Much of what the City by the Bay is famous for, Sioux Falls has too. Here are the ten most notable similarities:

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1. Trolley cars. San Francisco's world-famous cable cars run 365 days a year over precipitous hills. Resembling the electric vehicles of the town's innovative 19th-century rapid-transit system, Sioux Falls' climate-controlled, quaint-looking trolleys now ply downtown and beyond from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Do the math: San Francisco's adult trolley fare is $7 for one ride, one way. Sioux Falls' adult trolley fare is $1 per rider, all day.

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2. Entrepreneurs. The San Francisco Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley, is teeming with tech incubators -- communal workplaces for startups. Sioux Falls has The Bakery, a vintage bakery converted by local visionaries Brian Rand and Clint Brown into a multilevel, multipurpose incubator that's open 24/7 to members who think, plan, learn, meet and create businesses here in an atmosphere of creativity, collaboration, education, innovation and support. "We like the fact that we can meet different people's needs," Rand says in a panoramic classroom where university professors from over twenty schools remotely teach pro-bono courses in everything from WordPress to yoga to business-plan composition: "They just want to be part of the project," says Brown. The Bakery has drawn attention from politicians such as South Dakota's senator and corporations such as Facebook. "It's an honor to know that outside people are looking at us," adds Rand.

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3. Locally roasted coffee. San Francisco has many cafés such as Ritual, Sightglass and Philz that serve their own house-ground javas. Sioux Falls has Black Sheep, served at its own coffeehouse and four blocks away at M. B. Haskett Delicatessen, whose Culinary Institute of America/Hyde Park-trained owner Michael Haskett is a local guy who "moved back to South Dakota because I saw that I could really do something here, and be an advocate for local food producers" such as Black Sheep, whose brew is rich, smoky and intense.

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4. Street sculptures. San Francisco has its sleek, gleaming Benny Bufano figures and industrial-modern Vaillancourt Fountain. Sioux Falls has SculptureWalk, comprising dozens of original sculptures loaned by the artists and mounted along downtown sidewalks, where passersby can pick their favorites on conveniently provided ballots. The top vote-getter is purchased by the city and put on permanent display. The nation's largest such exhibition, SculptureWalk boasts a new set of sculptures every year.

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5. Food trucks. San Francisco's Off the Grid food-truck roundup energizes its strong local street-food scene. Food Truck Fridays are a thing at The Bakery (see above) and at events such as Downtown Riverfest (see below.) Beer-battered fish tacos? On the prairie? Step right up.

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6. Artisanal desserts. Soon after winning Season 2 of Top Chef Just Desserts, Bellagio-alum World Champion Pastry Chef Chris Hanmer opened his European-inspired CH Patisserie in downtown Sioux Falls, which he calls "the Brooklyn of the Midwest." Making chocolate bars, caramels, macarons and gateaux here "is a humbling experience," Hanmer says. "People give me their hard-earned money, saying 'Thank you for coming to Sioux Falls.' I'm the one who should be thanking them." Granted, "we are not ignorant of the fact that we're the only place within 100 miles" that sells sweets like these.

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7. Bison. A sturdy herd grazes in a paddock in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. A similar but closer-to-their-natural-home herd occupies a paddock in the Great Plains Zoo. But Sioux Falls' best-loved bison might be those served in restaurants. M. B. Haskett makes tavern sandwiches, the juicy prairie version of sloppy Joes, with ground bison meat. Beautifully brick-walled, upscale Parker's Bistro puts its salsa-and-chimichurri-dressed buffalo burgers inside potato-Cheddar-IPA buns. If you love eating local....

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8. Free outdoor music festivals. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is, as San Franciscans say, hella fun. So is Sioux Falls' annual end-of-summer Downtown Riverfest, where multiple stages featuring diverse acts thrill thousands -- as do fireworks, food trucks, family activities, community-oriented booths, canoe rides on the Big Sioux River, and cold Coke and Bud flowing freely.

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9. Natural disasters. San Francisco has earthquakes. Sioux Falls has tornadoes. The clocktower-tastic Old Courthouse Museum, constructed largely of the lustrous local pink quartzite that makes Sioux Falls sparkle rosily under sun and snow, houses a tree-trunk impaled by a hefty steel bridge girder hurled like a javelin by a 1932 twister. Is nature awe-inspiring or what?

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10. Replicas of famous Michelangelo statues. San Francisco's Saints Peter and Paul Church houses a somber white replica of Michelangelo's Pietá. Beaming proudly over a small park near downtown Sioux Falls is a full-sized reproduction of Michelangelo's David -- one of only two castings ever made. When it was given to the city by a local automobile magnate in 1971, controversy simmered; some feared that this prominently displayed nude figure would shatter local morals. As yet, this appears not to have occurred.

To this list of cool commonalities, you can add local breweries, wineries, world-class performance venues, art museums, science centers, hipsters (wait -- does everyone love those?) and vegan buffets.

But what don't the two cities share in common? Which wondrous glories can you enjoy in the Midwestern SF that its coastal counterpart lacks? Ahh ... thought you'd never ask.

1. Jobs. Sioux Falls' unemployment rate is an astounding, hope-reviving 2.9 percent, according to the US Department of Labor. "Help Wanted" signs and ads are everywhere. Twentysomethings need not live in their parents' basements -- unless they want to.

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2. Affordable housing. When Sioux Fallsians tell you they've recently bought big-backyarded four-bedroomed homes for well under $160,000, they're telling the truth.

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3. Spotless sidewalks, gutters, walls and streets. Litter, graffiti and all the other effluent that spoils the streets of San Francisco? You won't see it in spic-and-span Sioux Falls.

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4. Waterfalls. Cascades rush like white silk through shimmering pink quartzite in Sioux Falls' serene, sprawling, walkable, bikeable Falls Park.

Want to be a really trend-setting traveler? Then don't follow the crowd. Check out the other SF.


All photographs are by Kristan Lawson, used with permission.

Will Gays Abandon Hillary Clinton if Joe Biden Jumps Into the Presidential Race?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 25, 2015    9:21 AM ET

There are few politicians who've been more outspoken on LGBT rights in a gut-level, passionate way than Vice President Joe Biden. Nor has there been any politician so public in his or her opinions and so close to a president who catapulted LGBT rights during his two terms, profoundly making history. Political strategists still debate whether Biden forced President Obama to move more quickly on marriage equality -- something Biden surely would like us to believe -- or if he was part of a trial balloon days before the president finally announced support in the spring of 2012 (most reports point to the former). But the bottom line is Biden was first, ahead of Obama and Hillary Clinton -- who was last out of the gate among the three.

And that may present a problem for Clinton -- who some recent reports suggest has wide support among LGBT voters -- if Biden jumps in the race, in the same way we saw support from LGBT activists begin to cleave between Clinton and Obama during the 2008 primaries. The LGBT electorate is not a big one. But it is a politically active, organized and influential one, raising a lot of money for candidates and, like other minority groups focused on attaining rights, providing worker bees during campaigns who galvanize and energize the larger electorate -- and in the case of LGBT organizers, that's had a big impact on energizing younger voters too.

In 2012, Biden also said transgender rights are "the civil rights issue our time," ahead of Clinton's discussion of the issue, which, to her credit, she has taken up, as she also has, finally, come out for an all-inclusive LGBT civil rights bill in recent weeks (in a tweet). She also brings up the issues a bit more in her speeches now. What's lacking with Clinton is a passion that gets to the much-discussed "authenticity" criticism about her. It's something to which I've not really given a lot of credence in the past, and have mostly thought it was overblown: different people have different styles and different ways of connecting. But on this issue of LGBT civil rights, when comparing Clinton to Biden, it's definitely there.

Whereas Biden was so moved by the plight of gay couples that he seemingly blurted out his support in an emotional interview response --ahead of his president -- Clinton came out for marriage equality a year after the president, long after she departed the administration and after most other Democrats in Congress, in a carefully orchestrated video she made for the gay lobbying group, the Human Rights Campaign, which the group released. Spontaneous and warm, it was not. Every statement from Clinton on LGBT rights since has seemed to be just as calibrated: A seemingly parsed tweet here, a strategic few sentences or a well-placed photo there. We just don't get the full-throttled, frank embrace that we get from Joe. In fact, the few times Hillary has spoken more frankly on the issue, she's been awkward, defensive and uncomfortable, as was evidenced in the interview on NPR in 2014 with Terry Gross in which she stumbled on the question of her evolution.

Rather than encourage her to speak boldly on the issues to draw people in, it appears like the campaign has gone the safer route of enlisting a cadre of supporters to create a drumbeat in which Hillary Clinton is held up as some sort of icon to gays who will simply get LGBT support by default.

"We get her like we get our mom," said Fred Sainz, then of the Human Rights Campaign, to The New York Times, in a statement that many felt was insulting to LGBT voters, Hillary Clinton and all female politicians at once. Paul Schindler, editor of the New York bi-weekly newspaper Gay City News called it "cringe-worthy." Other supporters have pushed the stereotypical idea that Clinton is similar to the many strong Hollywood and pop culture women gay men have iconized, comparing her to Judy Garland, Liza Minelli and others.

"She is a cultural icon in a way that a number of other women known by only one name are," Seth Bringman, who worked on Clinton's 2008 campaign and served as communications director for the Ready for Hillary super PAC, told MSNBC.com's Alex Seitz-Wald. "Hillary is the Madonna or the Cher to a younger generation of gay guys across the country. They see a part of themselves in her."

That kind of rhetoric is counter-productive in the long-run. Hillary Clinton is not your mom. She's a politician who should be expressing specifics on our issues -- something which will increasingly be demanded of her -- and held to the same standard as any other politician (unlike your mom). Nor is her appeal something that should be likened to entertainers like Cher or Madonna (two women who, by the way, are risk-takers and the furthest thing from risk-averse Hillary Clinton).

This superficial branding creates its own bubble, much like the inevitability bubble of early frontrunner status itself, which can burst when the seeming real deal, like a Joe Biden, comes along. It's true, as I've discussed before, that Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley both have longer records of support for marriage equality than Clinton -- Sanders, as a House member in 1996, was one of the few members of Congress to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which Bill Clinton signed into law -- but neither has been very vocal on the issue recently nor so pivotal to President Obama's successes on LGBT rights as has Biden.

None of this is to say, by any stretch, that Clinton herself is not the real deal, nor that she doesn't right now have solid support from LGBT voters and activists. One recent article interviewed some long-time gay Clinton supporters who said the story of Clinton's emails isn't costing her support among LGBT Democrats. That may be true, but most Democrats don' t care about the email story, which is an obsession of the media and the right.

What they care about much more right now is whether or not a candidate embraces their issues with zeal (as the Sanders surge shows). On LGBT rights, Clinton needs to portray herself that way, speaking forcefully and passionately to the issues, if she wants to make sure a possible Biden run doesn't tap into LGBT support.

Black Lives Matter, ACT UP and the Urgency of Violence and Death

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 19, 2015   12:03 PM ET

There's been lots of criticism from some progressives after Senator Bernie Sanders was shouted down by Black Lives Matters activists in Seattle recently, especially from supporters of Sanders' presidential campaign. The basic tenor is that Sanders is a "friend" and thus protesting him is a waste of time, diverting from going after the "real" enemy. But much context is missing among the critics of Black Lives Matter, and, in one case in which a a comparison to the fiery AIDS activist group ACT UP is made, there's a bit of unintentional historical revisionism that needs to be cleared up.

I was sitting in the crowd when former Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley, was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protestors in Phoenix at Netroots Nation last month. The activists took the stage and made the point that the issue of police violence and killings of black citizens weren't being discussed adequately by progressives and political candidates. They demanded answers from O'Malley, and, directly afterward, from Bernie Sanders. It was disruptive, loud, tense and passionate.

And the first thing that came to my mind was ACT UP, a group of which I was a part, chairing its media committee back in the late '80s, and which engaged in similar kinds of protest and disruption, including against Democratic presidential candidates. The urgency of the protest was similar as well: People are dying, and no one in power seems to be doing anything to stop it.

That's why I was perplexed by at least one critic of Black Lives Matter suggesting that the group could take a page from ACT UP, which is portrayed as having engaged in a more productive form of disruption. Charles Pierce, a sharp, progressive writer I've followed for years and who does great work, criticized Black Lives Matter on Esquire.com for protesting Sanders in Seattle -- preventing him from speaking -- and like many other progressive critics he called the action "stupid" and "counterproductive" since Sanders basically supports the cause, unlike GOP presidential candidates. In a follow-up post he took back the word "counterproductive" but stuck by his general criticism and used ACT UP, which transformed the response by government, media and the health care establishment to HIV, as a model of activism which Black Lives Matter should follow.

The implied message was that ACT UP was successful by only targeting obvious enemies and not offending supposed allies. But that is simply not true. ACT UP was hated, despised, ridiculed and attacked by supposed friends -- including many in the gay community itself -- who claimed we were hitting the "wrong" targets, including our supposed allies, similar to the criticism Black Lives Matter is receiving now. The progressive Village Voice, born in the 1960s' rebellion, was perhaps the biggest critic of ACT UP in the early years. According to some progressive critics there and elsewhere, we were fascists or Stalinists who silenced people with angry and confrontational protests. Or we were alienating the very people we were supposed to bring in.

The same was true of the criticism of the tactics of the various offshoots of ACT UP in the early '90s, such as Queer Nation, which focused on the violence against gays and engaged in guerrilla actions to promote queer visibility, staging kiss-ins and wheat-pasting posters around major cities which revealed the sexual orientation of closeted prominent Hollywood and political figures.

And there were virulent attacks on OutWeek magazine, another ACT UP offshoot, founded by ACT UP members, which was at the center of the so-called "outing" movement (and where I was an editor). The writer Fran Leibowitz, a darling of liberal intellectuals, said of OutWeek, "It's damaging, it's immoral, its McCarthyism, it's terrorism, its cannibalism, it's beneath contempt."

ACT UP regularly protested that supposed friend of liberals, The New York Times, and ACT UP activists literally hijacked the set of Dan Rather's live broadcast on the CBS Evening News, flashing a message opposing the first Iraq war and calling instead for money for AIDS research. The group disrupted trading at the New York Stock Exchange, unfurling a banner on the floor, invaded St. Patrick's Cathedral with a civil disobedience action against the Catholic Church and shouted down Democratic presidential candidates, like Bill Clinton, getting promises from them on fighting the AIDS epidemic.

Years later, people herald ACT UP for the work it did, but they all seem to forget that in the moment there was enormous tension between the group and the larger progressive community -- as well with the larger gay community -- as people accused ACT UP of alienating allies by being confrontational. And that has actually been true of every protest movement for every cause: In the moment they're criticized, while later they're heralded. Black Lives Matter is doing exactly what it should be doing. And it is getting exactly the response it should be getting, bringing attention in every way possible to an urgent life and death issue.

Why the Boy Scouts New Policy on Gays Sets A Dangerous Precedent

Michelangelo Signorile   |   July 28, 2015    9:08 AM ET

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has finally lifted its ban on gay adults -- except for those groups that still want to discriminate. Sure, it's cause for optimism that the BSA is not enforcing the ban on every chapter and group. But by allowing some to discriminate by choice -- at this particular juncture in American politics -- the BSA is setting a dangerous precedent. By allowing the religiously-affiliated troops to still ban gay adults, the BSA is making a religious exemption seem like a reasonable compromise when in fact it is allowing the very people who would discriminate to keep discriminating.

And if I were a Republican contender for the presidency I would immediately come out in support of the policy and claim victory, because this is just the kind of policy that GOP presidential candidates, and Republicans in Congress, have been promoting as a way to keep the anti-LGBT base of their party energized heading into the 2016 election, just as I described last week.

We've heard over and over from Jeb Bush about how we have to "safeguard religious liberty," even as he claims to "respect" gay couples. While he recently came out for the idea of states -- not the federal government -- banning discrimination against LGBT Americans, he said there should be a religious exemption so that a florist, for example, should not have to serve a gay couple for their wedding. Ted Cruz has been championing as heroes an Iowa couple who are closing their for-profit business -- a restaurant, gift shop, floral boutique and wedding chapel all in one -- because they refuse to follow Iowa law, having turned away gay couples for their weddings.

A GOP-promoted bill in Congress right now, the First Amendment Defense Act, described by the ACLU as "Indiana on steroids," would put the sentiment of the Boy Scouts' policy into law, allowing individuals -- as well as organizations, companies and public servants, as "individual" is defined broadly in the bill -- to opt-out of engaging in actions or business if they have "a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."

The BSA has been using the incremental approach, having ended the ban on gay youth -- until the age of 18 -- in 2013, and now moving to this new policy ending the ban on adults but with a religious exemption. Clearly they're going in the right direction, but the 2013 partial-change satisfied no one -- not most LGBT activists, nor most religious groups. And attempting to "compromise" on civil rights sends a horrible message to young people.

The bright side is that this new policy doesn't seem to be supported by the Mormon Church, whom the BSA leadership thought was down with the new policy and which pours millions of dollars into the BSA. In a surprise, leaders of the church yesterday threatened to pull support from the BSA now that a blanket ban is gone, even though they'd still be able to discriminate in their troops but unable to stomach even a half-measure of equality for others. If they leave, good riddance, and hopefully the Catholic Church will follow if it can't accept gay adults either. The quicker the BSA can move to banning discrimination entirely, the better. That will not only send the right message to all youth but it will diminish an absurd, dangerous notion of "compromise" on equality that the GOP and its faithful are right now trying to peddle to America.

The GOP Plan to Stoke Anti-Gay Bigotry in 2016

Michelangelo Signorile   |   July 23, 2015   11:33 AM ET

There have been predictions for several years that gay-bashing by GOP presidential candidates would be dead by 2016, some of it wishful thinking by gay advocates. Back in 2012, Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, for example, commenting on the lack of discussion of gay issues in the three debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney, said, "What we're seeing is proof positive that gay issues aren't the wedge they used to be." The public, he said, has "moved on."

Fast forward to 2015: Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rick Perry have expressed blatant anti-gay positions, from banning gay scout leaders to supporting yet another marriage amendment. Some pundits believe this to be politically dangerous, certainly in a general election, and they're right when it comes to the more overt bigotry. As I noted last week, Scott Walker clearly crossed a line -- and walked back -- when he said the Boy Scouts' ban on gay adults "protected children."

But new polling underscores that covert messaging -- the dog whistle -- could do the trick for the GOP, just as it has worked for the party on race and gender for decades now. Jeb Bush has defended "religious liberty" -- the new code words for anti-gay positions -- even while saying gay couples deserved "respect" for their relationships. And just last week, Bush said he supported the idea of anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, though he thought they should be handled "state-by-state" (contrary to a comprehensive federal bill introduced by Democrats in Congress today that would protect LGBT people nationally).

But in comments that directly followed, Bush said that he believes there should be an exception for people with religious objections to allowing gays and lesbians to marry, such as a florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding. In other words, those who would discriminate in the first place should be exempt from laws banning discrimination. This will in fact be the more subtle -- but no less vile and discriminatory -- gay-bashing of the 2016 election.

Right on schedule, GOP legislators in Congress introduced -- and last week publicly promoted -- the deceptively-named First Amendment Defense Act, a bill which appears to be designed to do what the George W. Bush-backed Federal Marriage Amendment was meant to do in 2004 and the year preceding it: Fire up the anti-LGBT evangelical base and create excitement among them for candidates backing it.

The First Amendment Defense Act, as written, would do exactly what Jeb Bush believes -- and much more. Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), it states that government "shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."

The ACLU describes it as "Indiana on steroids," referring to the initial, notorious Indiana Religious Restoration Freedom Act. Could a bill like this really gain traction in a post-Obergefell world? While we've seen breathless poll after breathless poll proclaiming majority support for marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws, this week the Associated Press released a poll that worded the questions a bit differently. And we had better pay attention, because this is how backlash to equality operates.

First off, the poll saw no surge in support for marriage equality after the Supreme Court's historic ruling, and, the AP reported, "[i]f anything, support was down slightly since April." Secondly, when people were given more than two choices, and given the option to say they "neither approve nor disapprove" of the court's ruling, 18 percent chose this category. Thus, only 39 percent approved while those who disapproved of the ruling is at 41 percent. Likely, much of the 18 percent would have said they approved if given just two choices, and this may be why in most other polls we see majority support for marriage equality. But it is clearly a lot of soft approval. In fact, while only 30 percent in the poll chose "strongly approve" (over "somewhat approve"), 35 percent chose "strongly disapprove," showing passion is higher among those opposed to marriage equality.

Still, it's true that a large portion of the country supports marriage equality and public opinion has moved quickly in a positive direction on that issue. But as the AP reported, the poll found that when religious objections are thrown into the mix, the public has a jarring reaction, and one that LGBT activists should be taking heed of rather than simply trumpeting new and breathless polls claiming more support:

When the two are in conflict, 56 percent of those questioned said it's more important for the government to protect religious liberties, while 39 percent said it's more important to protect the rights of gays and lesbians.

People were split over whether officials who issue marriage licenses should be allowed to say no to gay and lesbian couples because of religious objections. Just under half said those officials should not have to issue the licenses, about the same proportion saying they should.

Also, 59 percent think wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, compared with 52 percent in the earlier poll. By comparison, 46 percent said businesses in general should be allowed to refuse service because of their religious principles, while 51 percent said that should not be allowed.

So, in the AP poll we're actually now seeing nearly 60 percent of Americans agreeing with Jeb Bush's position, and this is up sharply since the Supreme Court ruling, from just over half. There's a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats, too. Among Republicans, 82 percent said it was more important to protect "religious liberties" than gay rights -- which is why this is an issue GOP candidates will feel compelled to push big time -- while 64 percent of Democrats saw gay rights as more important to protect. But with 32 percent of even Democrats viewing "religious liberties" as more important, it's certainly something to be concerned about.

While it may be accurate to say that a majority of the American public has "moved on" with regard to marriage equality, that's not true among the base of the GOP. And, more critically, the majority of Americans in general hasn't "moved on" when it comes to "religious liberty" vs. "gay rights," not by a long shot. I've pointed out over and over, both in pieces covering conservative conferences over the last few years and in my recent book, that anti-gay bigots have been re-crafting their messaging. They've been searching for a new wedge, looking for what one anti-gay strategist described to me as the gay version of "partial birth abortion," as they study LGBT rights in a post-Obergefell world in the way they studied women's rights in a post-Roe world.

The First Amendment Defense Act is quickly gaining co-sponsors: 136 in the House (including one Democrat, Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois) and 36 in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, responding to a question from the Washington Blade on whether or not it would get a vote, certainly didn't rule it out. "I think at some point this year we'll obviously take a look at that," he replied. It's unlikely this bill could get 60 votes in the Senate, nor would it likely be signed by President Obama. But the Federal Marriage Amendment had even worse odds. The real goal wasn't to get it passed, but to engage anti-gay voters in the presidential and congressional races.

That may or may not be enough to garner GOP wins in 2016, but it will surely have the effect of injecting bigotry into the 2016 political discourse -- which is already happening -- and legitimizing religious hatred and discrimination. And that's always a loss for the average gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, still not legally protected in the majority of America and subjected to derision, discrimination and violence every day.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

How Scott Walker's Gay-Bashing Blew Up In His Face

Michelangelo Signorile   |   July 15, 2015    1:58 PM ET

Scott Walker thought he was playing a deft game. For a while the Wisconsin governor, running for the GOP nomination for the presidency, has been engaging in his own version of dog-whistling to homophobes, as he and the GOP struggle with the reality that the base of their party is still in the Stone Age on LGBT rights, while most Americans support equality. But this week it blew up in spectacular fashion as Walker stepped on the Ben Carson third rail and blatantly implied gay men are predators who can't be trusted around children.

Responding to a question about the Boy Scouts moving to lift the ban on adults serving as scoutmasters Walker said he was opposed because the ban "protected children." The implication was that gays are predators, the ugly lie that hate groups like the Family Research Council have promulgated for decades. You'd think in 2015 this kind of blatant defamation would be banished from politics. After much outrage, even from some conservatives who support equal rights for gays, like Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, Walker ridiculously tried to walk back the comments without admitting to and apologizing for hideous, defamatory remarks.

His campaign and later he himself claimed he didn't mean "physical protection" but rather protection from the political debate itself and the controversy. And yet, when Rubin had asked his spokesperson if Walker believed children needed protecting from gay men, the spokesperson had no comment. Moreover, if he truly doesn't believe gay men are dangerous to children, and really wants the political debate to stop being a distraction for scouts, Walker would simply support allowing gay adults in the Boy Scouts.

The entire scenario seemed like part of Walker and his campaign's attempt to whip up support from anti-gay extremists, particularly in Iowa, while they've been aware of not wanting to alienate the mainstream. Walker has trotted out his sons to say they favor marriage equality, even as Walker claims he does not. And his wife, Tonette Walker, has played a sort of motherly moderator role, saying she is "torn" on the Supreme Court's decision. The thinking of his campaign seemed to be that conservatives will respect family differences and Walker's love of his family -- family first, of course -- while seeing that he's standing his ground himself on the issue.

It's an attempt to dog whistle to homophobes while still also attempting to tell moderates that he has modern people surrounding him. Walker also went to a gay relative's wedding reception, you might recall, but then said he didn't go to the actual ceremony. And after the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, he came out for an amendment that allow states to ban marriage for gays, even as his family disagrees.

It has never been clear that this strategy would actually work with the far right, who don't want to hear that even a candidate's family might be supportive of LGBT rights. Already, Rick Santorum was attacking Walker and his wife, saying that "spouses matter," and that the fact that Walker's wife is "torn" and not on board the anti-gay agenda might sway Walker in his convictions.

So, this has been a questionable strategy from the beginning. And now, as he's trying to fire up Iowa GOP voters further, it completely came unhinged. Uttering the "protected children" term was beyond the dog whistle, and it was heard loud and clear across the political landscape and the media, bringing us back to Ben Carson's meltdowns, in which he's compared gays to pedophiles, only to backtrack but then make more anti-gay remarks.

Ever since Jeb Bush used the words "safeguard religious liberty" in response to marriage equality in Florida, we knew that gay-bashing was going to be a mainstay of GOP presidential candidates, though it would be in code words. It's encouraging to see Walker's overt pandering to bigots blew up. But when Bush used "safeguard religious liberty" in the same breadth in which he said we have to respect gay couples and the "rule of law", even though he still is opposed marriage equality, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay group, praised him for supposedly supporting gay couples yet didn't criticize him for the "religious liberty" code. The group rightly has been lambasting Scott Walker and his blatantly defamatory comments.

But it's the dog- whistling, like that of Bush -- and which there will surely be much more of moving forward -- that is far more dangerous. And we need to just as forcefully call it out.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Radio Call-In That Had Everyone Crying on the Day of the Supreme Court's Marriage Decision

Michelangelo Signorile   |   June 30, 2015    5:11 PM ET

It was of course a milestone for the LGBT equality movement when the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that marriage is a constitutional right for gays and lesbians. But for many it meant much more than rights. It was personal, about their relationships, their families and even their own self-worth. It was about having the highest court in the land legitimize them in the eyes not only of the world but of everyone in their lives.

On my radio program on SiriusXM Progress, the calls were coming in fast and furiously as people expressed their joy. Robert in Wisconsin called and talked about how he went into work to find his sisters waiting for him. They then revealed something about their deceased father that had listeners -- and all of us in the studio -- tearing up and realizing how much this decision meant to so many people, far beyond the rights and benefits of marriage. Listen in.


Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Larry Kramer: 'We Need Activism More Than Ever Now'

Michelangelo Signorile   |   June 29, 2015    1:21 PM ET

“I still have that anger and I would still like to galvanize everyone, but it doesn’t appear that we’re galvanize-able as a population,” AIDS activist, author and playwright Larry Kramer said, discussing why LGBT activism is so necessary at a time in which he fears complacency has set in. That anger is on full display in the new documentary about his life and work as an activist and writer, “Larry Kramer in Love and Anger,” which debuts on HBO tonight at 9 p.m.

“[It’s] too bad,” he continued, in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, referring to the vital work ahead for activists on AIDS and LGBT rights,“because we need activism more than ever now.”

That message – “we need activism more than ever now” -- is actually the message Kramer, who turned 80 last week, has been pressing, sometimes literally screaming it from the top of his lungs, for more than 30 years. And as a founder of Gay Mens Health Crisis and organizer within ACT UP, he’s saved countless lives with that anger.

The film not only captures many of those moments, but charts a childhood, adolescence and young adulthood marred by homophobia and which helped infuse the anger and rebelliousness. The film, receiving some terrific reviews, was made by longtime filmmaker and activist Jean Carlomusto, a friend of Kramer’s who appears in the film at his bedside while he was in dire condition in an intensive care unit in 2013, being treated for complications from a liver transplant.

Carlomusto said she got the idea for the documentary after hearing Kramer read from an early draft of his new book, The American People.

“To hear him read from the book is truly amazing,” she said. “[He] has an amazing voice -- the ancient mariner sits down, to give you this biblical history. That voice. That kind of provocateur that’s going to inspire you or push you beyond where you were comfortable going.”

She continued: “And I thought, why hasn’t a documentary been made about Larry yet? When I asked if I could do it, a number of people had asked him to do it, but he wasn’t keen at the time. But we worked it out and I’m glad. Because for me, it was a real gift.”

"Larry Kramer in Love and Anger" debuts on HBO at 9 p.m. Monday, June 29.

John Waters Reveals The Reason He Never Came Out Publicly As Gay

Michelangelo Signorile   |   June 24, 2015    2:54 PM ET

You simply can’t get more queer than John Waters, director of "Pink Flamingos," "Polyester," "Serial Mom" and "Hairspray," and a man who made an international movie star of the late drag queen Divine, and launched the cult comeback of the formerly closeted Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter.

But Waters, whose national bestseller, Carsick, is now in paperback, says he never actually came out as gay -- because no one ever asked.

“I was on the cover of some magazine called Gay News or Gay Times -- I don’t remember what it was -- in 1972, but not because I came out -- but because it was the only person to ask me to be on the cover,” he said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “And a lot of magazines, including The Advocate, did an interview and said, ‘The most out director,’ but they never had the nerve to ask me if I was gay. They thought it was -- like my parents –- it was something worse than gay. So a lot of people never asked if I was gay because they were afraid I’d say, 'No, I’m a necrophiliac' -- which, even that, that’s just fear of performance.”

Waters also talked about the commencement speech he gave last month to graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, where he weighed in on “trigger warnings,” a term that has become ubiquitous on many college campuses.

“Trigger warnings! My whole life is a trigger warning,” he said. “A trigger warning is when you say, ‘I might be saying something that might question your values.’ I thought that’s why you went to college! I didn’t think you might have to warn somebody, ‘You might have to think here. So this is a trigger warning.’ I really want to change my name to Trigger Warning. I think it’s a great drag king name.”

Waters said he was tickled to be asked to give advice to the students and receive an honorary degree.

“I was the commencement speaker and they made me a doctor,” he enthused. “I got thrown out of every school I ever went to, so it was great. They gave me -- it was like the scarecrow at the end of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – I got the Doctor of Fine Arts, which, immediately I said, ‘My fee went up. I’m writing oxytocin prescriptions. And I want tenure.”

Waters said he explained to the students and their parents that that not all rich people are bad, and that being rich, for him, means not having to hang around “with a**holes.”

“My definition of being rich is – There are two things that make you rich,” he explained. “You can buy every book you want without looking at the price. I am that rich -- well, I don’t buy the Gideon verse Bible -- and secondly, you’re never around assholes. And I’m not. And it took me -- I’m 69 -- it too me 50-something years to get to that position in my life, that you never are around assholes. That’s power.“

Why Indiana Wasn't a Turning Point on LGBT Rights -- and Why You Should Be Mad About It

Michelangelo Signorile   |   June 15, 2015   12:09 PM ET

Back in March, when Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana and the state's Republican-controlled legislature retreated under pressure on a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), many heralded the Indiana "moment" as a "turning point" in the battle for full LGBT rights. Big business would now lead the way, they proclaimed, and no state would dare cross corporate America again, fearful of its might.

But last week both North Carolina and Michigan passed discriminatory laws far worse than Indiana's ever was, as anti-gay conservatives said "Screw you!" to all that. North Carolina's legislature overrode Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's veto and now allows public officials to opt out of licensing or performing same-sex marriages. In Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law allowing state-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples based on the agencies' religious beliefs.

Unlike in Indiana, these laws went far beyond allowing private businesses to decline to serve LGBT people: In North Carolina and Michigan, agencies and individuals who get taxpayer dollars, including public servants, are now allowed to discriminate.

None of it should come as a shock, however, because we'd been through this just last year. After Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed a RFRA in her state in February 2014, under pressure from big business, so many in the media and among activists thought that we'd seen the "turning point" and the end of this strategy by enemies of equality. But little over a month later, with the national media and big business paying little attention, Mississippi passed a RFRA that was applauded by the Family Research Council as one that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples.

Ah, but the Indiana moment, I was told by some activists, was truly different from the Arizona moment. The Indiana moment, they exclaimed with jubilation, was really, totally and completely the true turning point, honest!

Unfortunately, they were swept up in victory blindness, intoxicated by a win, letting their guard down, seduced into believing in the inevitability of equality while anti-LGBT forces moved on to other states. Just last month I penned an op-ed in the Washington Post pointing out that, on balance, anti-LGBT conservatives actually had a pretty good 12 months, despite Indiana and other losses. I noted that they operate through trial and error, and that they'd be back, finding a new way to turn their animus into law. Last week they did, and it was a stellar win for them and an infuriating setback for LGBT people.

And please, spare me the argument that the laws won't hold up in court, which is often yet another symptom of victory blindness. First off, no one knows that, and after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, we should all be concerned. Secondly, the goal of anti-LGBT conservatives is in fact to keep LGBT equality tied up in the courts as they gather their forces, raise more money and deny us our rights for as long as possible while they attempt to roll them back, just as they do on abortion rights, voting rights and other issues. So, yes, they had exactly the win they were seeking.

In the Washington Post piece I wrote, I focused on reporting from my new book, It's Not Over, in which I quoted anti-gay leaders at the Values Voters Summit in September of last year, discussing what they'd do if the Supreme Court did in fact rule for marriage equality:

[Proposition 8 mastermind strategist Frank] Schubert said they would have to find a political strategy to stop progress on gay rights that was akin to the concept of "partial birth abortion" and its impact on abortion rights. Which gives some clues about the strategy. "Partial birth" abortion is not a scientific or medical term; it was created by abortion opponents to appeal to a wider swath of the public....

Later, he told me in an interview that if the Supreme Court rules for marriage equality, opponents' strategy, "in a broad sense [will be] be similar to the pro-life movement after Roe v. Wade -- regrouping, looking at trying to change the culture ... and of course religious liberty issues will be very much in the crosshairs." An example of the gay marriage version of a phrase like "partial birth" abortion, he said, would be "protecting the right of a believer in traditional marriage from being punished from the government," and another example would be "conscience protections," which are policies that allow religious believers to opt-out of certain duties of their jobs that violate their beliefs.

North Carolina and Michigan were right out of that playbook. And why you should be fighting mad is simply that the enemies of equality made their strategy very clear and very public back then, yet some of our major LGBT groups haven't been paying attention. They've been heralding the wins against bigotry, such as those in Indiana and others, as major turning points -- not to mention the fact that these wins are good opportunities for the groups to fundraise around -- and they have run away from the battles in the states where losses are a real possibility or probability.

For example, I was in Texas last month, broadcasting my radio program there live and reporting for HuffPost Gay Voices, covering the attempts by conservatives in the legislature there to pass over 20 anti-LGBT bills. Texas LGBT activists and politicians and their progressive allies were impressive to watch in action. They did something many thought next to impossible: They beat back every dangerous bill, running out the clock on anti-gay Republicans.

What I didn't see or hear much of a presence of in Texas, however, was the largest national LGBT group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). And where was HRC's president, Chad Griffin, while local activists were fighting the fight in Michigan and North Carolina but came up just short of achieving what Texas activists did? He was taking a marriage-equality victory lap in San Francisco, celebrating the Supreme Court win that actually hasn't even happened yet, and which, of course, would be due to the hard work of the legal groups involved, not HRC. If this isn't the essence of victory blindness, what is? And if national leaders don't snap out of it soon, anti-LGBT forces will continue to regroup and advance.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Kira Brekke   |   June 5, 2015   12:58 PM ET

June is Pride Month for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, in which queers love and embrace the strides made over the years and also take a look forward at how to continue the fight for full equality. But in a time when the attorney general calls LGBT issues one of the "civil rights challenges of our time" and we've reached a so-called "transgender tipping point," do we still need an entire month dedicated to celebrating LGBT pride?

In the video above, HuffPost Live's Marc Lamont Hill spoke with HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile, the director of Stonewall 50 David Schneider and the content director Of Black Trans Media Olympia Perez, who discussed why Pride month is, and will always be, absolutely important.

Watch the full segment on whether pride month is outdated here.

Sign up here for Live Today, HuffPost Live's new morning email that will let you know the newsmakers, celebrities and politicians joining us that day and give you the best clips from the day before!

Why Hillary Clinton Must Back a LGBT Full Civil Rights Law for Her Own Sake

Michelangelo Signorile   |   June 5, 2015    9:34 AM ET

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, wants to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gay and transgender people, assuring a federal law that would ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and all spheres of American life, with no broad religious exemption. In 1996, he was one of only 67 House members to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which President Bill Clinton signed into law.

Sanders' fellow Democratic presidential contender and former Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley, was at the vanguard of gubernatorial leadership on marriage equality, one of the few governors to spearhead and sign a marriage equality bill into law in 2012, and then fervently campaign in a statewide referendum to ratify it.

Lincoln Chafee, the former U.S. senator and Rhode Island governor, who has now announced a run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, supported marriage equality as far back as 2004 -- when he was a Republican! -- and similarly pushed and signed a marriage bill into law in his state in 2013. Chafee also said this week that the Pentagon's ban on open transgender military service should be lifted.

And what are we hearing from Hillary Clinton nowadays? Well, she finally said in her own words that marriage for gays and lesbians is a constitutional right -- just two months back -- having previously left that to a campaign spokesperson, while just last year she was still saying it was a state issue, in line with what many Republican candidates say now. And she issued a vague LGBT Pride Month proclamation that said that the work toward equality "is far from finished" without offering any specifics -- like amending the Civil Rights Act, or fully lifting the ban on trans service or creating a whole new civil rights law for LGBT people that does both and more.

It's true that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, gave an important, groundbreaking speech in Geneva in 2011, pronouncing that LGBT rights are human rights, taking on brutal anti-LGBT regimes abroad. But that was then, and while we all deeply care about our brothers and sisters overseas, there is so much that needs to be done in the U.S. for LGBT people that an American presidential candidate could promise right now.

And at a time when Clinton's Democratic rivals are exploiting a dip in her approval numbers, Clinton should be going on the offensive as the candidate fighting for full equality during a civil rights movement of our time. That would not only energize progressives in the party, it would speak to younger voters, including independents, who she'll surely need. And it's in stark contrast to just about every GOP candidate, most of whom have supported discriminatory "religious freedom" laws and surely do not back anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT people.

It's baffling that Clinton hasn't done this, considering the full force with which she's taken on the issue of immigration, promising to sign executive orders more far-reaching than even the controversial ones President Obama has signed, and the way she took on the voting rights issue yesterday, calling for 20 days of early voting nationwide.

It's likely true that Clinton's slowness on LGBT rights in the past was because, as secretary of state, she couldn't get ahead of the president, who had to be pushed himself on the issue. But even long after President Obama decided not to defend DOMA in court and came out for marriage equality, and after she left the administration, Clinton was still late to the game on marriage.

More than that, Hillary Clinton, rightly or wrongly, carries the baggage of her husband, Bill, who signed both "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and DOMA into law. She has to be twice as good on LGBT rights as everyone else just to counter that past, as unfair as that may seem. Instead, she has been defensive of Bill Clinton on the issue rather than distancing herself. While Hillary, like Bill, came to oppose DOMA and called on the Supreme Court to overturn it, for example, she, like Bill, has defended the signing of the bill into law in 1996, spinning out a narrative about how it was believed DOMA would satisfy the anti-gay crowd and blunt a possible constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

As I've pointed out before, this is false, as there was no talk of a constitutional amendment that early on. Certainly I don't expect Hillary Clinton to say, as I have, that DOMA was a stain on Bill Clinton's presidency. But surely she can be more forceful in being out front on LGBT rights now. And, again, that's doubly true if she wants to stand out from her opponents.

It's likely that Clinton's campaign is taking advice from Beltway gay operatives. That's a mistake because many were wrong the last time around, betting on her only to see LGBT energy and support shift to Obama, because he spoke more forcefully on the issues. She needs a different course this time. She could begin by giving a speech putting her full support behind a comprehensive federal LGBT civil rights bill, like the one that Sen. Merkley (D-Ore.) is set to introduce that would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, including in the 29 states that have no statewide protections without broad religious exemptions. She could explain how she's going to fight for it in a Republican-dominated Congress that will surely beat such a bill back for years to come. Or she can call for amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Sen. Sanders has, and a go a few steps better, calling for lifting the ban on transgender service, pushing for passage of anti-bullying legislation and getting a law passed that ends "ex-gay" therapy.

Most of all, Clinton has got to get away from empty platitudes. Things have moved at light speed, and we're way beyond the time when having a gay couple or two in your campaign video is enough, or where a vague Pride proclamation with no teeth suffices. We should be hearing concrete details from Hillary Clinton on how she is going to be a forceful champion of LGBT rights, both for the sake of equality and for the sake her own campaign.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

CORRECTION: This post previously stated Bernie Sanders was in the U.S. Senate in 1996, when he was in fact in the U.S. House.