September 5, 2012 at 7:00 AM
Gay and lesbian caucus hits record numbers at Democratic convention, stresses action
CHARLOTTE — There was much that the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Caucus celebrated when it convened for its first meeting during the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. For the first time, all 50 states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico, sent an official LGBT participant. Over a dozen hailed from Washington state alone.
Together, the delegates, alternates and other sanctioned staff counted 535 strong and made up 8% of the total delegate count. Couple that with the over 30 LGBT members of the national committee and the largest transsexual delegation, and the Democrats have the most gay-friendly political convention in American history.
“We wouldn’t have needed a room this size a few years ago,” quipped speaker Tammy Baldwin to the packed hall. Baldwin, an LGBT Wisconsin state representative, is running to become the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Baldwin and many other caucus speakers praised the Obama administration for its support and advancement of the gay community: the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and POTUS’ personal affirmation of marriage equality.
“We have to fight for a perfect union,” said Valerie Jarrett, who’s the President’s Senior Adviser. “I believe under President Obama, we’re more perfect than we were four years ago.”
The statement was met with a standing ovation and a chant of “Four more years!” But for all of the room’s excitement, the speakers did not just dwell on the community’s victories. Instead, they pointedly described how quickly they think that progress would disappear given a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan victory.
Kathleen Sebelius — the Secretary of Health and Human services who last evening addressed the entire convention an hour before the First Lady — stressed that the changes they applauded hung on executive orders and administrative regulations. They weren’t Congress-given laws, and as such, could be reversed.
If Romney is elected, it’ll be gone in 30 days, Sebelius said gravely. “Those footprints would be gone for another decade.”
The most fiery speech of the caucus came from labor leader Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation and AFL-CIO. Her petite frame and booming voice captured attention.
“Their platform is the most repressive, anti-human being, anti-gay, anti woman, anti-children ticket,” she declared. “Are we going to reelect a president who believes that we should have the right to marry, or have a party that wants to turn back the clock on our families?”
In this room, the answer was obvious. The key to victory was staying visible and campaigning actively until election day — “the more they know us, the more they love us.”
“The people in this room have won the hearts and minds of the American people,” Weingarten said. “Because we said who we love is as important as who we are.”
Sebelius instructed the delegation to network across state lines and fine-tune their message while at the DNC, then return home energized and ready to work for the next 60 days.
“You work as hard as you can, because on November 6th, we need to continue the march to equality and the only way to do that is to reelect President Barack Obama,” Weingarten concluded.
The message hit home with Washington state delegate Chris Porter of the 7th Congressional District.
“[The thought of a Romney victory] makes me extraordinarily nervous,” Porter said, “but it also energizes me to make me want to do more. I have to knock on doors, answer questions, email my candidates and just put myself out there.”
Porter said in 2008 he applied to be a delegate, but hesitated to check the LGBT box on the paperwork. Now he wants to make himself a part of the conversation.
“The more people come out and the more people put themselves out there — inevitably those misconceptions go away and people realize, “Gee, that person is very much like me,” he said.
After this week, Porter plans to resume volunteering with Washington United for Marriage, the Jay Inslee campaign and the President’s reelection efforts with greater vigor.
“It’s important because our state is on the same precipice as our national agenda,” he said. “We’re more than the Evergreen State. We embrace everybody.”
Watch a clip of Randi Weingarten’s speech below.