Tales from the HillBottom Highlights, Politically Aware Thursday, March 7th, 2013
Commentary: Politically Aware
I spent last weekend in Washington, D.C. lobbying and learning with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. I returned with a few stories to share.
The last time I visited room 2410 in the Rayburn House office building with an HRC folder I got a forced smile from a staffer and a polite but quick dismissal from the office. This year, I was given a warm smile from a staffer that turned quizzical when a friend ran out of a back room to greet me. That’s just a small taste of the huge upgrade LGBT San Diegans got by electing Rep. Scott Peters to replace Brian Bilbray.
That friend was Kate Lyon, a straight ally who probably doesn’t get enough thanks. When she wasn’t specifically helping with LGBT issues, she was working for fair-minded candidates and progressive groups like Planned Parenthood. She regrettably told us the Congressman wasn’t in, but we later ran into Peters in the hallway, where he was thanking us. No, Congressman Peters, thank you, for co-sponsoring an LGBT inclusive renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
VAWA passed the day we were on the Hill, which was very exciting. I hope Speaker Boehner will continue to allow important legislation to the floor even if a majority of his members don’t support it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.
Our San Diego contingent teamed up with a friend from Long Beach to lobby Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a Democratic freshman. He spoke eloquently on LGBT and civil rights issues, and took a photo with us. The conversation and photo very much reminded me of meetings with Mayor Bob Filner, who nearly always sat down and then took a picture with us when he was a Congressman. I missed him in D.C. this year, but it’s good to know our community has such a friend in Long Beach.
It would be wrong to mention new Representatives and overlook long-time LGBT ally and advocate Susan Davis, who meets with us almost every year, and whose office is a little piece of Hillcrest in Washington. Lobbying is mostly a slog of begging legislators and their staff to get behind your bills. Since Congresswomen Davis is nearly always among the first people to cosponsor equality legislation, we typically get to plop down and say “Thank You”, and relax. The only hard part is when her staff challenges us to help with things Davis is working on to push the envelope of equality, like the “Juror Non-Discrimination Act/Jury Access Act” that she introduced in January to keep attorneys from dismissing jurors based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The other amazing event last weekend was the filing of President Obama’s brief against Proposition 8. It didn’t specifically call for a constitutional right to marriage equality for all, but it is still impressive that the official position of the United States government is that “Prejudice may not, however, be the basis for differential treatment under the law.” While that case moves on, I learned that marriage equality is moving forward, with HRC’s field team looking to Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and Hawaii for action on same-sex marriage in the next two years.
After the presentation on marriage, there was a panel discussion with openly gay Congressmen Mark Pocan (WI-2) and Mark Takano (CA-41). While they were great, it was the sharp, funny, personable and openly bisexual Congresswomen Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9) who stole the stage. She’s just the kind of person you think should be in Congress, but would never get there. Fortunately, she did.
Now the trick is to keep her, and Scott Peters, and the others in Congress through the potentially tight 2014 mid-term elections. What’s at stake is the difference between avid support for marriage equality and DOMA repeal, and being told that if you’re gay and you want to get married, you should just move to Massachusetts. That’s what my friends from HRC Atlanta heard from the lips of a Georgia Congressman. He likened it to his own choice to live in Virginia instead of D.C. so that he could keep his guns.
If you think San Diegans could never elect someone like that, remember that the last resident of 2410 Rayburn could allegedly spot undocumented immigrants by their shoes. If you want to keep equality on the move, get ready to walk and donate, because the 2014 elections are already starting.
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