Normally, it would be fair to give HRC some time to get settled under its new leadership, but Chad Griffin, the newly appointed HRC president, is on the offensive with an outrageous media blitz to extinguish LGBT dreams for the 113th Congress.
With analysis suggesting that the LGBT vote was determinative of the election outcome, Mr. Griffin appeared on Andrea Mitchell Reports on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, two days after the gayest election in history, and surrendered our federal goals. Rather than claim entitlement to full federal equality, or to any federal agenda, as other key constituencies were busy doing, HRC declared that our massive momentum was going to be channeled into state and local work, signaling surrender to the ears of equality activists.
The media blitz continued in the Washington Blade. There he doused all hope of action in the new Congress, even on ENDA, which in 2007 had public support at 89 percent. That support is strong among all parties and groups, according to HRC, including 70 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of conservatives, 69 percent of those over 65 years of age and 74 percent of born-again Christians! And these are 2011 numbers that have surely gone up.
Meanwhile, the Williams Institute's Gary Gates and The Advocate say that LGBT votes were probably outcome-determinative in the presidential election, as well as in Ohio and Florida, and our 5 percent of the electorate constituted the margin of popular-vote victory that pushed Obama over 62 million. So we helped reelect the president, shifted the Electoral College and popular vote and provided serious political capital for the Democrats based on the promise of equality, but we are seeking nothing federally? Seriously?
Before we give up our federal goals for the next two years, we need to do a few things. We need to conduct national polls to determine support for equal civil rights and nondiscrimination protections, including specifically the laws covering employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, public facilities and all federally funded programs. Most people will likely be surprised that we are not already protected under those laws; 87 percent already think we have employment protections, so these numbers should be powerful.
We also need to poll on marriage equality again, though those numbers have been at 53 percent already. And at the same time we need to ask the ultimate question of extending full federal nondiscrimination protections, including marriage, nationwide to LGBT Americans. With the numbers in, we may be surprised that the big win is within reach if we try.
Instead, HRC is involved in the "fiscal cliff" coalition, attending meetings with other progressive organizations at the White House as part of the president's strategy, which is good teamwork. We don't know how LGBT issues work into this, but it's worth noting that discrimination in employment, housing, etc., for LGBT people constitutes our own fiscal cliffs because it is directly tied to our financial lives. But regardless, with a $40-million annual budget and 150 employees, hopefully HRC can help prepare our own movement for action on equality at the same time.
To start, HRC needs to please stop capitulating to Republican leadership in the House, which is unlikely to change in 2014, either. This is the game we must play, and HRC needs to stand up and unequivocally call for our human rights to be part of the federal agenda as a matter of entitlement. And then we need to get to work organizing among all the thousands of LGBT groups and supporters to create a plan for equality, even if we don't have all the votes starting out. Otherwise, we have the reality that our own movement is not even seeking full equality and is in fact blocking it, and that is a travesty.
One HRC supporter told me that the Republicans will not allow ENDA to come up for a vote. Well, maybe that's true if we say it is. But what about a comprehensive one-bill solution that puts all our rights in one package? What about the Senate and the president pushing for that with all our civil rights partners? What about the actions that will happen in D.C. and around the nation pushing for that bill in the House? And what about the power of the coalition we just saw help elect a president that strongly supports our equality?
That's what Chad Griffin should be talking about, and he should lead or follow but not obstruct the pursuit of full equality. Moreover, as a board-appointed representative and not an elected representative of the LGBT community, it is not appropriate to presume to speak for an entire movement, having conducted no public discussion or grassroots engagement to decide our movement's strategy. Entitlement may be appropriate when seeking full equality, perhaps, but not when giving up for all of us anytime Republicans control anything.
Given the secrecy around how, and by whom, our legislative agenda is determined, it's impossible to know the entire political calculus at work here, and therefore we can only speculate. But it's hard not to wonder if the real fear is that with 22 percent of the LGBT vote going for Romney, our achieving full equality may damage our electoral value to the DNC in future elections. Otherwise, why would they not call the question on our human rights? If that is a factor in our DNC-dominated movement, clearly we should be able to pick our political affiliations as a matter of free will and gratitude for a job completed, not as hostages for our basic rights indefinitely.
Political operatives love to talk about pragmatism and practical reality, which usually involves supposition for self-fulfilling fears, thinking inside the box of what was, not what could be. What's true by contrast is that we have Republicans ready to cave and momentum on our side, but we are standing down and giving up on the 113th Congress already. Let's try standing up for a change and see how it goes. We just bet on equality and won. Let's do that again.