By James David Dickson
Announcing President Barack Obama’s intention to “leave no vote behind and take no vote for granted” in his 2012 re-election campaign, Jamie Citron, director of the Obama For America 2012 LGBT Leadership Council, took a conference call with upwards of 100 LGBT activists in Michigan on Thursday night.
The conference call had two purposes: First, to detail Obama’s service to the LGBT community, and secondly to hear what Michigan’s most committed LGBT activists are doing, on the ground, to reach their communities, and to see how much of their approach could be tailored to the 2012 campaign.
Citron described the campaign as “still crawling, not walking quite yet,” just four weeks in, but said new staffers were coming on this spring and summer and the campaign will soon be in full swing.
Citron began by outlining Obama’s legislative victories and regulatory changes that benefited the LGBT community. He gave a reminder that in just over two years in office, President Obama had addressed two of the “big four” issues for the community by signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October 2009, and by repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy last year in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Full repeal has yet to go into effect as the Department of Defense crafts new policies. The law is expected to be certified this year.
Obama has been criticized by community activists for not including gay and lesbian military families in the ceremony or in remarks when the White House rolled out its Military Family Initiative earlier this month. The White House responded by saying that gay and lesbian families would be included once the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is certified. But that incident did not come up during the conference call.
The other two items on the Big Four – an employment non-discrimination act, and a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (which Obama has ordered the Department of Justice to no longer defend in federal court) – have yet to be accomplished, but Citron said Obama is pushing for both, and that he will fight harder for the community than any of the Republicans who might run in 2012.
Outside of the banner accomplishments, though, Obama has done plenty of small things, “the unsexies,” as Citron called them, that have benefited gays and lesbians of all walks of life.
For example: Under Obama, the State Department has issued transgender Americans passports that reflect their “true gender.”
“Some of you might say, ‘so what?'” Citron said, “but the passport is a one-stop shop employment document. This has prevented further, unnecessary outings at the workplace.”
The Department of Labor clarified the Family Medical Leave Act’s definition of “son and daughter” to allow families of all sorts, including LGBT families, to take care of sick children in their families, regardless of legal status. This is important because in many states, children of a same-sex couple may have only one legal parent because second-parent adoption is not allowed.
Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget increased money for teen suicide prevention, anti-bullying campaigns and HIV prevention and treatment. The president has also lifted the ban on HIV-positive travelers from visiting the U.S.
And the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the administration have filmed “It Gets Better” videos to support LGBT youth facing bullying and harassment at school and at home.
“The president is an ally,” Citron said from Chicago. “If we lose the White House, we lose a lot of these accomplishments. It’s better to talk about them now than mourn their loss later.”
With that, Citron turned the call over to ask Michigan’s activists how they go about reaching out to voters in their communities.
John Trumbull, of KICK, the Detroit-based agency for LGBT members of the black community, talked about KICK’s outreach efforts in June, which include a youth summit in Detroit and a strong presence at the Pride Picnic. KICK will use both opportunities to register young people to vote.
Denise Brogan-Kator, interim executive director of Equality Michigan, said her organization will focus on the economic toll of discrimination by explaining the financial benefits of being perceived as friendly and welcoming to the LGBT community.
“If we aren’t seen as a welcoming state, our economy won’t recover,” she said. Equality Michigan will roll out “community action teams” to make the economic argument in every corner of the Mitten.
Phil Volk, head of the Michigan Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus, mentioned, briefly, the organization’s plans for a May 4 “Lobbying Day” in Lansing and closed by saying that the Caucus would “fully endorse” the president’s re-election efforts.
Citron closed the 45-minute call by asking callers to declare “I’m in,” by pressing 1 on their touchtone phones. This would help the campaign know who to keep in touch with in the months ahead.
He also announced that the campaign would host some 15-20 strategy sessions around the state, starting mid-May and running through June.
Much like the conference call, these sessions will be done in part to let people know what the president has accomplished and to see what tactics and techniques the campaign might adopt from grassroots activists.
President Barack Obama: It Gets Better