As the Obama administration releases new details on ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the president continues his public evolution on the vital issue of marriage, our community needs to continue the momentum toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. This is what our new organization, Equality Matters, is about.
This is a crucial moment for all of us in the LGBT community. We are at a tipping point as Americans from all walks of life begin to see and support our rights as fundamental human rights. (When we look at the experiences of other nations, we see significant steps forward for equal rights after bans on lesbian and gay people serving in the military were finally lifted.) Despite defeats in the last election cycle, I believe this is the time for bold and decisive leadership.
Equality Matters is a new media and communications initiative in support of gay equality. Through strategic communications, research, training and media monitoring we hope to strengthen efforts for full LGBT rights and correct anti-gay misinformation. Our goal is to enhance advocacy and activism across all platforms and to leverage our expertise in support of others who are working to make full equality a national imperative.
Washington-based gay rights groups have faced daunting challenges in the past two years. With friends in power, it often seems like change should come more easily. As a former White House official, I understand how that view is part of the Beltway culture, but equality groups have had another huge obstacle. They have had to try to be strategic sometimes without clear and consistent White House guidance.
Let’s face it: LGBT rights lobbyists were in the same position as many other progressive activists (for example, those for immigration and climate change) – they often had to make strategy decisions based on mixed signals from the administration.
President Obama made three core commitments to Americans on LGBT equality. He said he would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; fight for the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) and sign it into law; and work hard to repeal the federal anti-gay marriage law. We have now achieved one out of three. But make no mistake about it: We are still the only class of Americans for whom discrimination is codified into state and federal law.
At Equality Matters, we will continue to press policymakers for a clear plan for dismantling the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and insist that President Obama lead the nation in a discussion on marriage equality.
We are very concerned now that the dismantling of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not include, at least so far, a nondiscrimination executive order. There is no reason why military personnel should be afforded less protection than civilian federal employees.
The failure to enact basic workplace nondiscrimination protections for us all as contained in ENDA is simply unacceptable. We call on Congress to do so before the next election and on President Obama to use his power and prestige to help make it happen.
Our Equality Matters campaign is just getting started. We are in a new environment as the repeal of DADT moves forward. Many inequities remain, even as gay and lesbian soldiers continue to fight and die for the promise this country was founded on – that all are created equal.
You can join us and keep in touch by visiting EqualityMatters.org.
Richard Socarides is president of Equality Matters.