- The Magazine
“We are the minority of minorities. We belong to every race and creed, both sexes, every economic and social level, every nationality and religion. We live in large cities and small towns. But we are the untouchables in American society.”
Forty-four years ago, Madeline Davis stood before the Democratic National Convention in Buffalo, New York, and delivered a now historic speech. An “untouchable,” Davis was the first gay person to be chosen as a delegate to a major party convention, and one of two gay people to speak at the 1972 DNC. There, in the wake of the Stonewall riots in 1969 and as the LGBT rights movement was taking its first steps towards greater equality, she implored her fellow Democrats to support gay Americans.
Unfortunately, her pleas were unheard. George McGovern, the Democratic nominee, had made it clear that he wouldn’t accept gay rights as a plank in the party platform. Following Davis’ speech, another female delegate issued a rebuttal in which she compared homosexuality with prostitution and pedophilia.
“We were pretty disgusted about the way she did it,” Davis told NPR’s Tell Me More in 2012. “We knew, of course, that there was going to be someone who would speak against it. But the way it was done, the words that were used, were pretty horrible.”
There are echoes of Davis’ historic story in that of Rachel Hoff. The D.C. resident was the first openly gay delegate to participate in the Republican National Convention’s platform committee, and she too stood before her fellow party members and delivered an impassioned speech asking for greater visibility for LGBT people.
“We are your daughters. We are your sons, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, the couple who sits next to you in church,” she said. “Freedom means freedom for everyone, including gays and lesbians… And all I ask today is you include me and those like me.”
Just like Davis, Hoff watched as her words fell on deaf ears. Her amendment to replace language in the platform with more pro-LGBT phrasing was defeated. Hoff sat, in tears, as almost three-quarters of her fellow committee members voted against her rights and the legitimacy of her sexuality.
But Hoff wasn’t fighting for visibility in 1972, like Davis. She was fighting earlier this month. In Cleveland, at their national convention, Republicans approved the most anti-LGBT party platform in their history, a platform that defines marriage as between a heterosexual couple, that rejects the rights of transgender people to use public accommodations, that decries opening up military enrollment to LGBT people, that applauds the use of conversion therapy on minors to try and “cure” their sexuality or gender identity. In forty-four years, the GOP has only moved backwards, as LGBT rights become a wedge issue used to light a fire under conservative voters. The contrast with Democrats is staggering.
This week, in Philadelphia, Democrats approved the most pro-LGBT party platform in their history. Almost half a century in the making, it represents a culmination of the struggle of LGBT activists to be recognized at the highest levels of politics. If 2012 was a watershed moment, when marriage equality was enshrined in that year’s party platform, 2016’s platform is an affirmation, a celebration of the rights of every LGBT American. The sheer breadth of the platform stands in contrast to the hate and opposition of its Republican counterpart.
“Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability,” the platform proudly attests. It goes on to “applaud” the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, but recognizes that there “is still much work to be done.”
“LGBT kids continue to be bullied at school, restaurants can refuse to serve transgender people, and same-sex couples are at risk of being evicted from their homes,” it states. “That is unacceptable and must change.”
Democrats pledged to push for sex discrimination laws to cover LGBT people — an important milestone in legal arguments that we’ve already seen applied to the case of Virginian transgender teen Gavin Grimm. They will also push for the passage of ENDA, or Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which guarantees that LGBT people can’t be discriminated against in a number of areas, such as housing and employment. Democrats rejected so-called “bathroom bills,” which seek to limit access to public facilities for transgender people, and supported a “progressive vision” of religious freedom that does not include laws similar to those in Indiana, Mississippi and elsewhere that allow LGBT to be refused service. The platform also pledged to tackle LGBT youth homelessness, bullying in schools, violence against LGBT people — particularly transgender Americans and especially trans women of color, who are disproportionately victims of violence — and to promote LGBT rights as part of American foreign policy.
Support for LGBT rights runs throughout the platform, including blocking states from adopting anti-LGBT laws, making clear that “detention can be unacceptably dangerous” for LGBT immigrants, improving the Census Bureau’s ability to track LGBT people and better provide for their needs, and reviewing the records of all LGBT soldiers discharged for their sexuality or gender identity.
“This is the most LGBTQ-inclusive platform of any major U.S. party,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “From protecting LGBTQ young people to ending the epidemic of violence against transgender people to passing an explicit and comprehensive federal non-discrimination law to bringing about an AIDS-free generation, the platform addresses many of the major challenges facing our community today.”
Even compared with a month ago, the party platform has improved. An initial draft, released earlier this month and worked on by a small number of Democrats, mentioned LGBT people just 11 times. When the full committee got their hands on it, that number doubled, fleshing out sex discrimination protections and international efforts to promote LGBT rights.
“I saw the first draft of the platform, and I didn’t think, ‘This pisses me off,’” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a member of the platform committee, told Buzzfeed News. “Instead, I looked at it and thought, ‘This is how we can fix it.’”
That willingness to be more open, more inclusive stands in stark contrast to Republican efforts a fortnight prior. As Rachel Hoff told TIME, she “did not expect the rigidity with which the committee would refuse to even mention the LGBT community more broadly in a positive way.”
For Madeline Davis, it’s the culmination of a fight she first started over forty-four years ago. The 2016 Democratic Party Platform is a testament to her efforts, and the efforts of thousands of other LGBT activists. Particularly in the last couple of years, LGBT rights have become incredibly du jour, a fact that even Davis wasn’t prepared for. In her 2012 NPR interview, she didn’t think she’d ever see marriage equality become legal nationwide.
“How many years away is that going to be?” she said. “I can’t get excited yet. I’m 72 years old. It’s quite possible — if not probable — that I will not see this in my lifetime.”
But Davis did live to see marriage equality become the law of the land. And now, she’s witnessed the most LGBT-affirming party platform in history.
“We ask for your vote and we ask because our people have suffered long and hard,” Davis told the 1972 convention. In contrast with Republican efforts, this week’s Democratic Party Platform helps to end that suffering, once and for all.
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