White House Contenders Talk About Our Issues

by HRC Staff

HRC�s Equality magazine is hitting mailboxes across the country. In this issue, read our in-depth interviews with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (excerpts below) on GLBT issues, find out why the lesbian singing duo Tegan and Sara are involved in our True Colors summer tour. And learn more about adoption.

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Where do the top White House contenders stand on issues of importance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community? In interviews with HRC's Equality magazine, the candidates let us know at length what they've done for our community so far and what they'll do in the future, if elected president. Below are responses from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democratic candidates. John McCain, Republican candidate, declined to respond to a request for a written interview.

Equality: You have asked directly for the support of LGBT Americans in this presidential election. Why do you think you are the best candidate for the LGBT community?
Hillary Clinton: For seven long years, the Bush administration has tried to divide us - only seeing people who matter to them. It's been a government of the few, by the few, and for the few. And no community has been more invisible to this administration than the LGBT community.

As president, I will change that. The best evidence of what I will do as president is what I have already done.

What life experiences have you had that will enable you to understand the issues facing the LGBT community?
Throughout my life, I have known many wonderful LGBT people who have truly affected the way I understand the issues facing the community. I will never forget Bob Hattoy's speech to the Democratic Convention in 1992. It was one of the bravest, fiercest most effective speeches I have ever heard. Bill, Chelsea and I were sitting in our hotel room in New York City watching it with tears running down our faces because it was so gripping, so real, so authentic, and it was doing what had to be done. For the first time in front of millions of people, someone was standing up and saying, "I am proud to be here. I am proud of - all the communities I am a part of - the gay and lesbian community, the environmental community. I am proud to be representing you and I am here to talk about living with HIV/AIDS and being a spokesman for what we are going to do when we elect a new president." As a senator from New York, I saw firsthand how important domestic partner benefits can be. After Sept. 11, I wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft and Special Master Ken Feinberg to urge amending the Victim's Compensation Fund regulations to make clear that surviving domestic partners of those killed in the terrorist attacks are to be treated with the same dignity and respect as the husbands and wives who lost their spouses in the attacks. On a personal level, I think about my father who was a conservative Republican with very traditional views for much of his life. Yet in his last years, it was a gay couple who lived next door who provided much of the compassion and comfort my father and my mother needed as he grew ill. And it was that same neighbor who held his hand as he died. If my father can move, America can move.

What have you done in your public career - as First Lady and as U.S. senator - to end discrimination against LGBT Americans?
Barack Obama: I have a long track record of working and fighting for LGBT equality. That is why, in the Illinois Senate, I co-sponsored legislation that prohibited discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, extending protection to the workplace, to housing, and to places of public accommodation. A later version of that bill was enacted as the Illinois Human Rights Act, now one of the most progressive laws of its kind in the country. In the U.S. Senate, I have supported legislation that would promote equal LGBT rights and spoke out against the Federal Marriage Amendment. And throughout this campaign, from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church [in Atlanta] to campaign rallies in Texas, Colorado, California and beyond, I have made clear that my vision of America is one that is fully inclusive of LGBT Americans and that we must continue to promote these issues of equality and social justice.

What life experiences have you had that will enable you to understand the issues facing the LGBT community?
Throughout my adult life, I have been committed to promoting social justice and civil rights. As I mentioned in my speech on race in Philadelphia recently, one of the tasks we set out for in embarking on this presidential campaign was to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. And I view the issues facing the LGBT community as a part of that long march. To me, ensuring that LGBT relationships receive recognition by the federal government, making sure that LGBT citizens are not discriminated against at the job, providing for hate crimes legislation or insisting that our military permit able and willing LGBT Americans to serve openly - these are all issues that speak to the need to further eradicate inequality and hate from our society. I am firmly committed to that cause, and my own experiences as an African American, as a civil rights lawyer, as someone who has taught the Constitution and as someone who has gay friends, colleagues and staffers all serve to reinforce that commitment.

What have you done in your public career - as a state senator and a U.S. senator - to end discrimination against LGBT Americans?
Throughout my 11 years in public office, I have fought to secure inclusion of LGBT Americans in our laws. I co-sponsored, as a freshman legislator and repeatedly through my tenure in the Illinois state Senate, a fully inclusive bill that prohibited discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, extending protection to the workplace, to housing, and to places of public accommodation. In the U.S. Senate, I have co-sponsored bills that would equalize tax treatment for same-sex couples and provide benefits to domestic partners of federal employees. I have also co-sponsored the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and publically called for a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

You have talked about the importance of raising the issue of LGBT equality in front of "skeptical, as well as friendly, audiences." How have you been able to do this? What kind of responses have you gotten?
Whether it's on the campaign trail or in some of the most important addresses of my career (such as the 2004 DNC Convention speech or my announcement address), I have always felt comfortable raising the issue of treating LGBT Americans with equality and dignity in diverse audiences. I truly believe that if we expect to see progress on these issues, it's not enough to just talk about them in front of audiences that already agree with us. I think these issues, like so many others, require a real conversation and deeper understanding between people who do not necessarily see eye to eye. When I went to Rick Warren's church at Saddleback [in Calif.], I didn't sugarcoat my positions on issues like LGBT rights and choice precisely because I think if we address them in an honest, pragmatic and nonideological way, people will start to recognize their common ground and to understand that there is much more that unites us than divides us. Think about how far we've come from the 1990s in building public support for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I think our country now understands that it doesn't make sense as a matter of effective military policy or national security, and we've moved to a place where insisting upon a discriminatory policy such as DADT is viewed by most Americans as both unfair and a distraction from bigger issues we face. But it took a national conversation that highlighted stories like those of Eric Alva, who received a Purple Heart for his brave service in Iraq, and it took engaging military leaders who originally held a different view to get to that place. And I'm willing to continue that talk because I think most Americans do not support discrimination. Until we convince more people to get behind support of things like repealing [the Defense of Marriage Act] or enacting ENDA, it's going to be difficult to achieve progress on these issues. It's not enough to just talk to our friends. And so I don't just talk for the sake of talking to skeptical audiences, but rather because that's how change is going to come about. I think people appreciate frank and honest talk, too. There have been some silences, but I like to think that's not indicative of anything bad. Rather, people are simply thinking. And there has been some applause - I received a standing ovation at Ebenezer, for instance, where I urged the congregation to live up to King's dream of the beloved community in part by embracing our gay brothers and sisters.

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