Gay, womens groups build April 25 march

NEW YORK – As the gay rights movement grew in influence in the last decade, Richard Burns says, conservative gay groups have become more vocal, seeking to push the movement to the right.

He cited the Human Rights Campaign backing right-wing right-to-life supporter Al D’Amato for the Senate from New York in 1998, and gay Republicans demanding the death penalty in the Matthew Shepard case.

“Our job is to turn that tide,” said Burns, executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. For instance, he said, “We need to say, ‘Reproductive freedom is part of our movement.’”

National Organization for Women National President Kim Gandy, noting that her organization had come out in support of same sex marriage back in 1998, said that sexism, racism – “all those ‘isms’ we fight” – are connected. “They all share the same roots and require the same conditions to flourish,” she said.

The comments by Burns and Gandy came at a Dec. 3 panel discussion, “Causes in Common: Reproductive Rights and LGBT Liberation,” called to encourage all-out mobilization for the April 25, 2004, march on Washington for freedom of choice. Organizers hope to bring 50,000 participants from New York City alone.

Rights and laws that generations of Americans had come to take for granted have been wiped off the books and more are at risk, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice warns on its website.

Already courts have struck down anti-discrimination laws, part of the Violence Against Women Act, affirmative action programs, and other guarantees of equal opportunity. Federal courts have limited workers’ rights and weakened environmental protections. And the courts are allowing more and more restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.

Reproductive rights and personal privacy issues, Gandy said, are constitutionally intertwined and both are under attack. “If we’re not [in Washington on April 25], standing up saying, ‘You’re not going to take away our rights,’ they’re going to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is being more afraid of the right wing than they are of us.”

The Bush administration recently cut family planning funds in half, Gandy said, and 50 percent of the remaining is earmarked for “abstinence only” education. What adds insult to injury is that any right-wing group can get these federal funds simply by claiming to advocate “Just say no.” In other words, Gandy said, President Bush first cuts the funds and then gives what’s left to his friends.

On Nov. 5, President Bush signed the so-called partial birth abortion ban legislation. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman said then, “George Bush has crossed a line. … Just a week after he said in the Rose Garden that our culture is not ready for a ban on abortion, President Bush is making clear that he’s itching to put one into place anyway.”

The organization is airing television ads in selected markets that highlight the fact that the ban signed by the president violates the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship. It also points out that by signing the bill, he becomes the first president ever to criminalize safe medical procedures.

New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick warned that despite this, many people – especially young women – have been lulled into believing that Roe v. Wade will always be there to protect them. That is the 1973 Supreme Court decision recognizing for the first time that the decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should reside with the woman, not politicians or the government.

“You don’t have the same degree of zealousness on college campuses,” said, Glick, the Assembly’s first openly gay member, “that you had before Roe v. Wade.” But, she warned, “This really is about the rest of our lives.”

Other panelists included March for Choice co-directors Alice Cohan and Loretta Ross; Robin Brand, vice president of Campaigns and Elections, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; and Carmen Vazquez, deputy executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda.

The author can be reached at crummel@pww.org.