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A warrior for civil rights

Susan Horowitz
By | 2004-07-15T09:00:00+00:00 July 15th, 2004|Uncategorized|

Cheryl Jacques, president and executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, took the helm of the nation’s largest LGBT rights group in January 2004. She came to HRC after serving six terms in the Massachusetts state senate, before which Jacques served as an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County and went on to serve as an Assistant Attorney General in the Trial Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office. Due to her experience as a criminal prosecutor, Jacques was the first freshman legislator and first woman to chair the Judiciary Committee when she was elected to the Senate in 1992. Jacques is a graduate of the Boston College School of Business Administration and Suffolk University Law School.
In addition to her duties as an elected official, Jacques worked as Counsel to the law firm of Brody, Hardoon, Perkins and Kesten and was an Adjunct Professor of Law at Suffolk University Law School, and served on several state and local boards.
Jacques and her partner, Jennifer Wade Chrisler, live in Silver Spring, Md., where they are raising their twin boys, Timmy and Tommy.
In June, Jacques came to Michigan for an HRC event, and sat down with BTL’s co-publisher Susan Horowitz to talk about the presidential race, Michigan politics, and the Federal Marriage Protection Amendment.
Horowitz: The Human Rights Campaign endorsed John Kerry for President. Why will he be a good president for LGBT Americans, and can we trust him after he has spoken out in favor of a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that would ban marriage rights for same-sex couples?
Jacques: All I can say is I was as disappointed as anyone coming out of Massachusetts, having fought my heart out in the State Senate to stop the attack on families in Massachusetts through a Constitutional amendment. I’m very disappointed that Senator Kerry came out in support of the so-called compromise. Having said that, he’s not perfect. He’s not a perfect candidate. But he is pretty amazing.
BTL: Your press release announcing HRC’s endorsement is pretty clear about his record and accomplishments. It’s an amazing one.
Jacques: Yes, I mean, he is the strongest candidate we’ve ever had. Let’s remember, President Clinton, God love him, did an awful lot for LGBT folks but he signed DOMA [Federal Defense of Marriage Act] into law. He passed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” None of these candidates are perfect and if that’s going to be our standard we will never have a candidate to support for President or any other office. I was at a function with Barney Frank [openly gay U.S Rep. (D) Massachusetts], and he had a great line. He said, ‘There’s only one candidate out there I ever voted for that was perfect, and that was me. Then when I ran for reelection, and had been in office a while, I wasn’t perfect anymore, but I still voted for me and worked for me.’
BTL: Is it just the nature of politics?
Jacques: No one should say, ‘if our candidate isn’t perfect we’ll walk away.’ The perfect advocacy group doesn’t exist, the perfect candidate doesn’t exist and the perfect President doesn’t exist. What is more important in a candidate is: Does he have an open mind? Does he have an open heart? Does he have an open door? Is there a clear record of commitment from his heart to equality and equal treatment under the law? And Kerry? – Absolutely. He’s where a lot of goodhearted Americans are and he’s trying to figure it out about marriage. He doesn’t quite get it. He’s got his religious convictions mixed up with his common sense. He already understands why we need the benefits affiliated with marriage and he has said he would support a federal bill that restored things like Social Security survivor benefits, family medical leave act, inheritance tax protection that are unavailable because we can’t marry. He gets that piece of it. We’re almost there in helping him understand the whole picture.
BTL: Speaking about Presidents who get it and don’t get it, George Bush said his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment is not about discrimination, but about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. What is he really doing with his endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment?
Jacques: He has stripped away any illusion that he is a so-called compassionate conservative. He has stripped away any promises that he would be a uniting president as opposed to a divider and he has exposed that he is a desperate president, engaging in desperate acts. He is willing to use our most precious document, the United States Constitution, to literally pit us against one another. He is willing to write into the Constitution an exception to the equal protection clause that says ‘this group of people shall be treated separately.’ I mean he’s promoting apartheid in America. He wants to segregate a class of Americans and say, under our precious document that says all men and women are treated equally in this country, there’s an exception for LGBT people. That’s the most frightening leadership I think we’ve ever faced as a community in this country.
I absolutely believe that he is playing with fire and I think he’s going to get burned. I think that in his desperate effort to politically rev up his ultra-extreme conservative base he has miscalculated that the vast majority of Americans are fair minded, good hearted, and abhor discrimination.
BTL: By the way, congratulations on passage of the hate crimes legislation. How will that vote impact your reaction to the vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment? Will Senators be able to vote for the Amendment, but say they are not prejudiced against LGBT people because the voted for the hate crimes legislation?
Jacques: Well, let me be perfectly clear as head of the nation’s largest gay rights organization: There is absolutely no mitigation for voting for discrimination. Any Senator, any Congressperson that votes to support the Federal Marriage Amendment – there is no mitigation. There is no inoculating against the repercussions of that vote. Our community will never forget that vote. Anyone who’s out there under the illusion that we might give them a pass is sadly mistaken. The line in the sand has been drawn. A vote to discriminate in the Constitution is paramount to any other kind of vote that a Senator or Congressperson may cast.
BTL: Some far right African-American religious leaders are taking a stand against us. How is this playing out? Do you see this having a serious impact in the election?
Jacques: I do, and it’s something that the gay community and all its allies have to focus on, and we’ve got to do a lot of communicating. What has happened – and shame on the radical right and shame on President Bush and Karl Rove for what they’re trying to do – they are trying to drive a wedge into the African-American community, the Hispanic community, into communities of color. They aren’t trying to win their vote, because if we look at the polling African-Americans despise George Bush. They get that this man is a complete fraud. But they want to suppress their vote. Bush wants them to stay home. So when African-American ministers stand up there and say to their parishioners that anyone who supports LGBT people is violating their religious principles, that leaves individuals confused, and that’s exactly the goal of the Bush administration and their political strategists. And shame on them for politics at its absolute worst.
Several weeks ago we had dinner with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to talk about this very issue. The Congresspeople and the Senators who are pushing it have the worst civil rights voting records in the country. It is despicable that these folks are using that community. And what we have been talking about, and what we will continue to talk about, and what I think fair minded African-Americans get, is this is all about George Bush trying to steal the election again. And don’t lose sight, don’t take your eye off the ball regardless of where you stand on issues like gay marriage. This is about our jobs, this is about our health care, this is about the war in Iraq being bungled – these are the things he doesn’t want us to think about or to talk about and that’s why he’s pushing people to be distracted. And it’s part of our job to make sure everybody keeps their eye on the ball.
BTL: And votes?
Jacques: And votes, and votes, and votes. You are absolutely right.
BTL: In 2000, exit polls indicated that about 25 percent of the LGBT vote went for Bush, which was enough to make a difference, I believe, in the last election. Do you see percentages shifting this time?
Jacques: I do. Both through data and also anecdotally and I’m thrilled to be here because Michigan’s going to bring us home first. The LGBT community overwhelmingly gets it this time. A former member of our board said something at this dinner the other night in Ohio. He said, ‘I’ll forgive LGBT people who voted for Bush last time. If they vote for him this time it’s like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.’ I think that reflects the sentiments that I certainly see and that the polling shows. Even Log Cabin Republicans are saying that close to a million gay voters, Republican voters, voted for Bush last time, but you’d have to look far and wide to find anyone in the GLBT community who will even entertain supporting George Bush. They get it.
BTL: Speaking of battleground states, welcome to one. What are the national organizations doing about the states that are facing marriage amendments? We have a multi-million dollar budget here in this state to fight the proposed state constitutional amendment. What is the relationship between our campaign and HRC?
Jacques: That relationship is already well underway. What we literally do is stand shoulder to shoulder and offer the financial support. We just gave a ten thousand dollar grant to the Coalition for a Fair Michigan. When these battles play out, literally we parachute down to be helpful. Whatever they want is basically what we do.
Jacques: This is my optimistic crystal ball, and I am optimistic that a year from now we will have successfully stopped the Federal Marriage Amendment, and we will have beat it strong, with a clear message that gay bashing didn’t work – that it cost Bush the election. So a year from now we’re looking at a President Kerry and we’re looking at a country who has learned and grown and moved forward as it had to do when we ended segregation, as it does when it faces challenges about people’s religious backgrounds, their ethnic backgrounds, their cultural backgrounds and they say “Ok I think I get this. I get these are just the moms next door, or the two dads driving their kid to soccer. I think I’m ok with this.” So I think an enormous amount of learning will have taken place in a year. And I think that we will be well on our way in our fight for full equality and I think that politically we will have established the precedent that gay bashing costs you and the same way that somebody wouldn’t in a political arena make an anti-Semitic remark, make a racist remark. It will be no longer be acceptable to be homophobic in the political arena. That’s where I hope we are a year from now.

About the Author:

Susan Horowitz
Susan Horowitz is editor and publisher of Between The Lines/Pridesource.