This article is part of a series on the Democratic National Convention.
PHILADELPHIA – Though there has been much media attention paid to dissent on the floor of the DNC, there was only unity on display at the LGBT Caucus meeting here Tuesday afternoon. Hearing from a number of federal, state, and party leaders, LGBTQ delegates expressed broad agreement with the necessity of defeating Donald Trump in November.
The twin realities that there are only two candidates in this race and that one of them will inevitably be the next president presented no moral dilemmas to this crowd. Electing Hillary Clinton and securing control of the Supreme Court were seen as central to protecting and advancing LGBTQ equality.
Trump will appoint a “militant homophobe” to SCOTUS
Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank said that LGBTQ Americans, by and large, are not buying Trump’s promise to “protect the LGBTQ community” from “foreign” attacks. Frank responded to the GOP nominee, “We gays worry about a lot of things, but foreign invasion has never been high on that list.”
Pointing to the extremely anti-LGBTQ elements in this year’s Republican platform, Frank reminded the assembled delegates that other than telling gays to carry guns, “the Republican Party opposes every other form of protection for us.”
If for no other reason, Frank said that the deadlocked Supreme Court provides enough incentive for the LGBT community and the broad progressive coalition to keep Trump out of the White House. With a 4-4 split court, the next president will appoint the justice(s) that will determine which way many important issues break.
Emphasizing the common ground shared by the full range of democratic and equality movements, he said, “The next president’s choice of justice will set the direction on whether religion can be used as the grounds for denying people access to services, on whether women can access birth control, on whether we will stop big money in politics, and protect the Voting Rights Act.” If Hillary Clinton loses, Frank warned, “We will all be in the minority.”
Defeating Trump is a “moral imperative,” Frank concluded. “Trump says he plans to appoint someone like Scalia, and there has never been a more militant homophobe on the Court.”
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly lesbian person elected to the Senate, joined in drawing attention to the need to defend gains already won. “From the Byrd Hate Crimes Law to the repeal of don’t ask-don’t tell, all the way up to the Supreme Court decision on the freedom to marry, we have traveled so far and have farther to go yet.” She said that history has been made under the Obama Administration, and that it was “time to again make history” on election day.
Trans equality in the spotlight
The 28 transgender delegates in attendance – the highest number ever at a major party convention – brought a powerful educational component to the caucus meeting for their LGB brothers and sisters and allies. Congressman Mike Honda of California’s 17th District shared the story of his own learning process when he found out his granddaughter Malisa was transgender.
As an older Asian male, the first-born in his family, Honda said there was a cultural aspect for him to engage with as well when he first started to discover transgender issues. He brought a message for all those who are looking for ways to understand and appreciate the experience of transgender persons. In his calm and affirming style, Honda said, “The difficult part is learning to open up and let it go. Just let it happen.” He told the caucus, “We all need to learn that this whole gender thing is not binary, but a beautiful gender spectrum.”
Attacking the GOP’s embrace of “conversion therapy,” the debunked mental health pseudoscience of trying to switch a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, Honda warned Republicans, “Don’t you come close to my granddaughter!”
Speaking directly to the transgender delegates, Honda thanked them “for being good teachers and good warriors for the rest of us coming along on these issues.” He has endeared himself to the LGBTQ community with his firm public championing of equality. He serves as chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus and was today presented the Jane Fee Award, named for the first transgender delegate elected to the DNC in 2000.
Grassroots trans activist Babs Siperstein, a delegate from New Jersey and policy director for the the Gender Rights Advocacy Association in her state, noted how far the trans community has come within the party in just a short time. “In 2004, we were not in the platform. The “T” in LGBT was silent,” she said. “Now, in 2016, here we are with so many trans leaders elected to this convention and major allies standing together with us.”
Babs is one of those leaders. She is the first transgender member of the Executive Committee of the DNC, appointed by Tim Kaine, now Clinton’s running mate, when he was party chair.
“We know what the GOP is doing”
All the speakers and delegates pivoted their remarks to the immediate task of keeping Trump out of the White House and making gains against Republicans in every down-ticket race.
“The Republican platform clearly attacks the fundamentals of the LGBT community and our families,” Evan Low, State Assembly member for California’s 28th District said. “Picking Mike Pence as the vice presidential candidate is a clear example of how they view the LGBT community. As Governor, he supported institutional discrimination towards members of our community. It’s shameful.”
Closing the meeting of the Caucus, Oregon State Representative Tina Kotek, the first lesbian House speaker in the United States, warned LGBTQ people not to be tricked by Trump and the GOP. “Just last week, Trump said he’s going to be good on your issues, but don’t believe him. Neither Trump nor the GOP has our backs. We know what they are doing in statehouses across the country and what they plan if they win the White House.”
Kotek said electing allied politicians is important, but she told the LGBTQ delegates that it is time for more of them to put themselves forward as leaders. “It is time for more of us to start thinking about becoming elected officials as well.”
Photo: Trans delegates to the DNC present Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) the Jane Fee Award on Tuesday July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia. | Chauncey Robinson / PW