By Sharon Gittleman
“Unlike the bad old days, when officials avoided us and feared being associated with lgbt people, our Caucus was repeatedly interrupted as the top officers and officials from around the state asked to speak to us,” Serra said
DETROIT – When state Democrats met for their convention in Detroit on February 15, the lgbt community made its presence known. Top Democrats met with a dozen members of the party’s lgbt Caucus to find out where gays and lesbians stand on the issues of the day.
“Caucuses represent interest areas in the Democratic Party. There’s an Irish Caucus and a Greek Caucus, too,” said Rudy Serra, President of the LGBT Caucus. “We advocate on lgbt issues to the party as a whole. We provide the visibility for gays and lesbians.”
Serra walked the convention floor wearing a pink triangle and a rainbow flag pin. “Unlike the bad old days, when officials avoided us and feared being associated with lgbt people, our Caucus was repeatedly interrupted as the top officers and officials from around the state asked to speak to us,” Serra said.
Judges, state representatives, county commissioners and seemingly every candidate seeking a post as a Democratic Party officer stopped by the LGBT Caucus meeting room.
The LGBT Caucus’ primary function is to act as an advocate for gays and lesbians.
“We speak out at Democratic Party functions and help the party write the Democratic Platform,” said Serra. “We provide information about lgbt issues to other Democrats and review requests for endorsements from Democratic candidates.”
Caucus member Rick Wallace also attended the convention.
“Caucuses are a way for different groups of people to share their message with members of the party,” he said. “They let us talk about what’s going on on issues that are important to us.”
But in spite of the warm reception, Wallace doesn’t have much hope for lgbt issues in 2003.
“There are a lot of different things on our agenda, but I don’t know if anything will be accomplished because the Republicans control the House and Senate,” he said. “Most of them are opposed to anything that would result in equal treatment for gay and lesbian people. As long as the Republicans control the legislature, the best we can hope for is the Governor vetoing anything bad that comes out.”
Serra, however, was a little more optimistic than his colleague.
“I think a major focus for us, for a while, will be the repeal of the sodomy and gross indecency laws in Michigan,” he said. “Bills to repeal these laws have already been introduced. There is some chance of success, if we can get some reasonable moderate Republicans to agree. I think the Democrats will unanimously support those bills.”
A big Caucus goal for this legislative session is broadening its educational scope: helping both elected and non-elected Democrats learn more about the gay and lesbian community.
“We decided to write to congressional district leaders to increase our visibility and to do internal education of party leaders,” Serra said. “There are 83 counties in Michigan, with many in rural areas. We wanted to make sure they know who we in the LGBT Caucus are, why we are here and what we do. This is directed at party people, not just elected people. It’s a little bit more grassroots.”
While Serra would also like to see “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protections added to the state’s civil rights laws this year, he feels the odds of success range from slim to none.
“My goal is to get more Democrats elected so we can make more progress in the future,” said Wallace.