Metro Weekly

Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

We Won, We Lost. What's Next for 2009? (Online Extra)

METRO WEEKLY: From your — or your organization’s — perspective, what is the most immediate effect of the presidential election on the LGBT community?

AUBREY SARVIS: The Obama presidency will bring an exponentially greater level of support for LGBT issues and a greater awareness and understanding of our community. Sen. Obama ran opposing ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA while openly supporting ENDA and expanded Hate Crimes protections. Without shying away from those positions and while mentioning gays and lesbians in his rallies, Obama carried conservative states, including North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Florida. This — along with the election of an African-American to the presidency — shows how far we have come. More allies have also been elected to Congress.

MW: Since the 1990s, a small number of LGBT issues have consistently emerged at federal legislative level: gays in the military, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, partner immigration, hate crimes and marriage equality. With a Democratic congress and president, which of those issues do you believe should be prioritized?

SARVIS: While we at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network are of course focused on ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) there is a very full agenda for President-elect Obama, and we know we will not be first in line. To be successful in eliminating the ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, we need a partnership between the White House, Congress and our military leaders. We will work for more hearings on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. It is important that it be done right this time.

I see an ironic linkage between ENDA, seeking employment non-discrimination, and ending DADT, where we seek to strike down the only federal law requiring discrimination.

MW: Will Congress be able to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA?

SARVIS: I don’t know. I hope so, but we must be prepared to line up 60 votes in the Senate in order to be successful.

MW: Protections for and recognition of LGBT federal employees have often been attacked under the Bush administration. How do you believe the landscape will change for LGBT federal workers under the new administration? Will Obama’s pledge to extend domestic partner benefits come through?

SARVIS: The treatment of federal employees could be a dramatic way for the new president to advance fair treatment of our community. There should be some opportunities for the president to act here, either by regulation or legislation.

MW: The Bush administration has been lauded for its work in Africa on HIV/AIDS. How do you think an Obama administration will influence HIV/AIDS policy in the U.S.?

SARVIS: Having a president who supports age-appropriate sex education will help enormously — and save lives.

MW: What does the loss on same-sex marriage in California — as well as Arizona and Florida — plus the barring of adoption rights in Arkansas say about the state of GLBT issues in America?

SARVIS: We have to work harder, not take anything for granted and realize that we are facing very determined and organized forces who will mobilize against us. Throughout history, the greatest and most significant civil rights advances (Brown vs. Board of Education, Loving vs. Virginia, marriage in Massachusetts) have been made through the judiciary. We clearly cannot rely on the majority to grant rights to the LGBT community.

MW: A number of rationales have emerged for the California loss — minority voters supporting both Obama and Prop. 8, low turnout in some areas such as San Francisco, ”No on 8” messages that avoided being too ”gay,” etc. — what do you think needs to be addressed among those in order to move forward in that state?

SARVIS: Our community needs to work together to assess how we move forward now. There were heartbreaks and setbacks, but we start again. It’s one vote at a time. We rebuild and we come back when we are ready.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.