Dem convention celebrates equality

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Wisconsin delegate Jamie Shiner played a history-making role at the convention – as a member of the largest LGBT caucus and as one of about a dozen transgender delegates. – Photo: Lisa Neff

LGBT Democrats say party leadership asked them for years to wait for a dividend on their loyalty – for the time when the party would fully embrace marriage equality.

“The waiting is over” was the oft-heard refrain from LGBT delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., held Sept. 4-6.

In 1996, when Democrats gathered at the United Center in Chicago for the convention that nominated Bill Clinton for re-election, the big question in the LGBT community was whether the president would say “gay” in his acceptance speech.

In Charlotte, the big question was how much attention the party would give to marriage equality.

The answer? A lot.

Speaker after speaker in the convention spotlight reminded delegates and their TV audiences that the party platform supports marriage equality, celebrates the repeal of the ban against gay servicemembers in the military, and strives for equality for all.

In his keynote address, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said, “When it comes to getting the middle class back to work, Mitt Romney says, ‘No.’ When it comes to respecting women’s rights, Mitt Romney says, ‘No.’ When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, ‘No.’ When it comes to expanding access to good health care, Mitt Romney says, ‘No.’”

In a rousing speech on Sept. 4, Newark Mayor Cory Booker talked about the “emboldened pathway toward the historic hope which has driven generations of Americans forward. It is our most fundamental national aspiration – that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, creed, how you choose to pray or who you choose to love – that if you are an American, first generation or fifth … who is willing to work hard, play by the rules and apply your God-given talents, (then) you should be able to find a job that pays the bills.”

Gay Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado introduced himself at the convention: “My great-grandparents were immigrants. I am Jewish. I am gay. I am a father. I am a son. I am an entrepreneur. I am a congressman from Colorado. I am always an optimist. But first and foremost, I am an American.”

To sustained applause, Polis said, “Tonight, I don’t just ask my fellow Americans to respect my relationship with my partner Marlon and my role as a father to our son. I also ask them to respect the Christian family concerned about decaying moral values and crass commercialism. I ask them to respect the difficult decision of a single mother to bring a child into this world, because of her heartfelt beliefs.”

In a quite different speech, actor Kal Penn, referring to his work in the Obama White House, said, “My favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out bin Laden – and who’s cool with all of us getting gay-married.”

Outside the glare of the podium spotlight at the Time Warner Cable Arena, Democrats still promoted gay equality, whether the audience was the morning gathering of Arkansas delegates at the Hampton Inn by the airport or the LGBT caucus at the Charlotte Convention Center.

LGBT caucus meetings took place Sept. 4 and Sept. 6, with delegates hearing from out legistlators Tammy Baldwin and Mark Pocan from Wisconsin, Polis and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, and openly gay Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias and DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan.

At a special luncheon on Sept. 5, first lady Michelle Obama addressed the LGBT caucus: “The one thing I want to point out here today is that we don’t want to make any mistake about it – this election is about even more than the issues that are at stake right now. It’s about even more than the candidates that are on the ballot this year. This election, more than any other in history, is about how we want our democracy to function for decades to come.”

The caucus, chaired by longtime activist and party loyalist Rick Stafford, was the largest in the party’s history, with more than 550 delegates and alternates. Some of the older members of the group remembered decades back, when the caucus could meet in a telephone booth.

“History is being made this week,” Stafford, of Minnesota, said.

Baldwin said, “The sheer size of this caucus is but one example of the progress we’ve made toward equality.”

Gay delegate Darrell Bouldin, over morning coffee on the first day of the three-day gathering, said he was proud to represent Tennessee and is “a big supporter of President Obama.”

Bouldin said he was most looking forward to the business of adopting the national party platform, which states, “We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. …We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.”

“I’m really excited to vote for marriage equality,” said Bouldin, who was sharing a table with Wisconsin delegate Jamie Shiner, who was proud to be a transgender delegate to the convention.

Shiner praised Democrats for the repeal of DADT and supporting marriage equality and the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It is critical to transgender people,” Shiner said of ENDA. “I get tired of hearing how some of my sisters and brothers are treated in employment. Some can’t even go to a rest room.”

Meanwhile, on the streets of Uptown Charlotte, voters and volunteers, activists and protestors mostly embraced the party’s positions on LGBT issues.

“Damn. I think gay marriage is the one thing we’re really agreeing with the party leaders on,” said Hank Webber of Tulsa, Okla., who participated in the Occupy Wall Street South demonstrations that took place during the convention. “The Democrats aren’t perfect on a lot of things, but I’m with them on that.”

Dyanna Johnson of Charlotte, who worked at a barbecue booth at the festival before the convention, said, “Baby, you love who you love. No one should tell you otherwise. I support the president.”

At the Human Rights Campaign’s booth at the festival, there was a long line for festivalgoers to spin a wheel and win a prize.

“I’m hoping to win an equality T-shirt for my baby,” said Julie Sawyer of Durham, N.C. “That would be a great way to get into a conversation about marriage with moms on the playground. You probably heard. There was a vote here in May.”

North Carolina voters, in the May primary, approved a constitutional amendment banning recognition of gay marriages and other same-sex relationships.

“I wish the vote had come after the convention,” said Marianne Kracker of Charlotte. “I think the outcome would have been different because, man, Democrats are fired up and ready to go now.”

Campaign connections

Obama for America has several tools to connect with LGBT supporters, including:

There are no similar affinity groups for the Romney-Ryan campaign.