[EDITOR'S NOTE:] The following is a guest post by Peter Rosenstein. Peter has worked for Congresswoman Bella Abzug, the Carter administration, and the White House Conference for the Handicapped Implementation Unit. In addition, Peter has been a member of the Development Committee for Whitman-Walker Clinic, Chair of the Issues Campaign for DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chair of the Issues Committee for Washington DC Mayor Williams’ election campaigns, and a Senior Advisor to the Mayor.
I am constantly amazed when I read articles and columns written by members of the GLBT media, most of whom have never done anything but write a column, attacking our political friends and allies on Capitol Hill. Then they go on to attack our national organizations who work the halls of Congress. I always assume by the naiveté of the writing that in most cases they have never set foot in the Capitol and clearly missed their social studies classes where we learnt how a bill is passed.
I recently read a number of columns from members of the GLBT media who have bashed Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) and other Congressional supporters of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention/Local Law Enforcement Act, for not getting it through the Congress yet. They also attacked the Human Rights Campaign and complain how they are not doing enough to hold our legislators’ feet to the fire to get this done.
I believe that what these columnists really do is show their complete lack of understanding on how legislation gets passed and the complexities of getting a bill that the President has vowed to veto, through the Congress. They also paint a false story of what some of our national organizations are doing and that is unfair to the GLBT community as a whole.
I have had my differences with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as most people know. But I believe that one must give credit where it is due. I think that HRC is beginning to change and our community should recognize that it is primarily because of the work of the Human Rights Campaign that on May 3, the House of Representatives voted 237 to 180 in favor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592). This was a major milestone for the GLBT community and one that I agree took too long to reach. But part of the reason it took so long to reach is that our community and some of our GLBT columnists focused on other issues.
Once the current leadership of HRC focused on electing a Democratic Congress in the last cycle, and did it very successfully, they followed up quickly with pushing for this bill. We finally had a House, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that would vote on and pass GLBT legislation. In fact Speaker Pelosi has promised to bring ENDA to a vote in the House this September.
But the Senate is a different story. To criticize Ted Kennedy who has worked with us for a decade to move this legislation is attacking the wrong party. The people we in the GLBT community must attack and defeat are the likes of George Bush and the Republican Leadership in the Congress. When we have over 60 votes to guarantee a veto proof bill then we will be safe. But the reality is we don’t now. And our supporters in the Senate have said to us that the way to bring this bill out and to get it signed into law is to attach it as an amendment to a must-pass, must-sign bill. They chose to offer Hate Crimes as an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill as they had tried to do in the past. With a President who has threatened a veto of nearly every appropriations bill this year it was concluded that this was our best chance. And it may still prove to be the best hope for the bill.
What we know is that the President would veto it as a stand alone bill and we don’t have the votes to override that veto. I give credit to those who are currently working at HRC that they know the legislative process and they can count votes. Having worked for a Congressperson myself, and currently on legislation for a non-profit, I would again ask those columnists who only want to continue to attack to realize that their slings and arrows would be better aimed at our enemies, not our friends. Instead of ranting about what they know nothing about, it would serve the GLBT community much better for them to call for every person who reads their columns to support the work of our friends.
I agree with the call to put pressure on our Democratic Presidential candidates and all Congressional candidates to support our bills. But I would suggest we learn from the pressure put on Bill Clinton to introduce legislation without realizing the power of Sam Nunn (D-GA) to block it, or we could end up with another “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
We have come a long way to where we are today. Let’s move forward together to ensure that we go all the way and not get bogged down on attacking each other.