Could this be the year that every American family sees itself reflected in the platform of a major political party? And if so, what would an all-inclusive set of ideals mean for America's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens and their loved ones and friends?
The Democratic National Committee and Senator Barack Obama have announced that the 2008 party platform will be put together through a more "open" process that includes numerous opportunities for the public to weigh in with their ideas on what the party should stand for. The party, and the candidate, will hold public forums in all 50 states and invite voters to meet with party officials, and policy advisers, in a national discussion about the vision of the Democratic party.
"Barack Obama believes that every American should be able to contribute to the Democratic platform, just as record numbers have participated in this campaign," deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand told the Associated Press.
It's a lofty goal that has the potential to truly re-create and re-imagine what a grassroots political movement can do. And, for LGBT Americans who have often just been given lip service in the formation of platforms past, it also holds the promise of real, substantial commitments on issues that matter.
It is imperative that gay and transgender Americans, and our allies, participate in this new platform process, and encourage the party to assemble a vision that includes us all.
Among the priorities LGBT voters in both political parties should be focusing on are:
Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Just yesterday, another four senior, retired military officers joined the dozens and dozens who have already called on Congress to repeal this counter-productive law. Lifting the federal ban on lesbian and gay troops strengthens our national security, but it also eliminates the last federal law that mandates discrimination against gay Americans. By getting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" off the books, the next commander-in-chief can strengthen our military readiness and send an unmistakable message that anti-gay discrimination is no longer acceptable in our nation's largest employer.
Recognizing our relationships. It's impossible to say you're a "pro-family" politician and then vote to relegate some families to second-class status. The 2008 party platforms should make clear that states should provide some type of legal protection for same-sex couples in loving, committed relationships, and that the federal government should mirror that recognition and respect same-sex families by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A platform that is "pro-family" should be a platform for the whole family.
Standing up for immigration equality. According to the policy and legal aid group Immigration Equality, "Although 16 nations around the world allow their citizens to sponsor their same sex partners for immigration benefits, unfortunately, the United States does not recognize our relationships for immigration purposes. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, even same sex couples which have been legally married in Massachusetts, California, Canada, the Netherlands, or Belgium, will not be able to immigrate based on their marriage." The party platforms should call on Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act and put an end to tearing apart families based on nationality.
Passing hate crimes & employment non-discrimination laws. Both the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) have faltered in Congress too many times, and for too long. No country, and no party, that truly believes in "liberty and justice for all" should be in the business of giving a green light to the firing of some workers simply because they are gay. And no nation that believes "all men are created equal" should be without a comprehensive hate crimes law this far into the 21st century.
Including transgender Americans as equals in the American family . . . and in the eyes of the law. Transgender Americans have been at the forefront of the LGBT civil rights movement. In many ways, you could even say they invented it. From riots at Stonewall to rights in Sacramento (where a transgender attorney won the historic California marriage case), our transgender neighbors and friends have given us all too much to be left behind. Neither gender identity nor expression should be grounds for employment discrimination, dismissal from the armed forces or discrimination in housing or the like. The transgender community must be included in all of our efforts to secure full equality, because we are not fully equal until they are, too.
An open platform process provides an opportunity for LGBT Americans to be heard, first-hand, in a way that we never have been before. LGBT Democrats should be first in line for these historic policy open houses, and gay Republicans should encourage their party to open up the process and work to be heard as well. And when we show up for the conversation, we should bring our straight friends and allies with us, and show that equal rights aren't just a priority for the minority, but an idea supported by the majority, too. Moms and dads, co-workers and neighbors need to insist on a platform for the whole family, including gay and transgender Americans.
Together, with a little help from our allies, families and friends, we can build a platform we can believe in, too.