Adam Bink

Interview w/NGLTF Exec Dir Rea Carey (part two)

Filed By Adam Bink | November 20, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: AmericaBlog, Don't Ask Don't Tell, ENDA, LGBT movement, marriage equality, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Rea Carey

TThis is part two of an interview with Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Part one focused on the No On 1 campaign in Maine, the push to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 in California, and the marriage equality movement in general. This part focuses on the state of LGBT rights at the federal level, the Obama administration, and Congress.

Among the highlights:

  • Rea refusing to accept any half-measure on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
  • Although criticizing the Obama administration in many respects, Rea declining to call on the Obama administration for an apology over numerous slights towards the LGBT community
  • Rea commenting on the AMERICABlog donor boycott

The one comment I have is that I disagree on the refusal to call on the administration for an apology over what we all agreed were horrendous mistakes, with the rationale of "I don't know that the administration sees those as mistakes" (see the transcript for more). Glenn Beck called the President a racist, and he should apologize, regardless of whether he saw it as a mistake. LGBT advocates should call for the same from the Administration if serious mistakes were made.

Overall, though, NGLTF is taking a pretty strong stance in terms of language regarding the slow pace of LGBT issues in Congress, on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and with the Democratic Party in general, which is great.

Full transcript below the fold.

Q: Turning to the Administration and Capitol Hill, recently John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay launched a donor boycott of the DNC. Is NGLTF going to endorse the boycott?

Rea: We don't give money to political entities-

Q: Will you ask others not to give until the demands they lay out are met?

Rea: What we've been telling donors who they talk to us is that they should give to candidates they believe in. We want people to be giving their money to where it's going to be making a difference and candidates who are going to represent their values. They have certainly been challenges with the Democratic Party- as well as the Republican Party, but this is about the Democratic Party- and people should be giving where they feel like that's going to be making a difference, or not give to what they don't want to support. In terms of what we give or do, there's no change because we don't have a PAC or endorse candidates or do anything around elections with the DNC, so there isn't a change in terms of what we give or do. But we are living in a time where elected officials, the Democratic Party, frankly the Republican Party as well, all the way up to the Presidency, need to step up for equality. We've had some very big successes in the last year and some things that have moved too slowly for our tastes, and we're pushing to make them move faster, and we want the Democratic Party with whatever leverage it has and whatever resources it has to start stepping up more on LGBT equality.

Q: On Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the administration has suggested there will be movement, but possibly less than a full repeal. Is NGLTF willing to support segregation of troops, or a pilot program?

Rea: Absolutely not. We need a full repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Period.

Q: On the DOMA brief, do you accept the administration's argument that the administration is obligated to defend laws that are on the books?

Rea: Well, the first DOMA brief that came out was horrendous, and that's been widely discussed, and we aggressively criticized the administration and the Department of Justice for a brief that was not only offensive but we feel certainly did not represent what we would want out of an administration. I understand that from our legal colleagues, we're not a legal organizastion, so the legal organizations have more of a relationship with DOJ on the legal briefs, but the briefs that have come out since then have been better. I know there are some lawyers who believe that there are ways for the Admin to not have to defend the law... I'm not a lawyer so I can't comment on that, I understand the administration feels like they have to defend the laws of the land, and unfortunately right now DOMA is the law of the land, and we intend to push the Administration and Congress specifically, who has the authority to overturn it so that we can get on with protections for people's lives.

Q: But you don't have any comment on whether the Administration is obligated to defend it in court?

Rea: We're not a legal organization. I've heard some lawyers say they have to defend laws, and I've heard other lawyers say they don't have to defend this particular case. I can't comment because we're not a legal organization and I don't have a legal opinion on it.

Q: I think the AMERICABlog boycott was launched for two big reasons. One is because of lack of progress. The other is because of slights towards the LGBT community: Donnie McClurkin, Rick Warren, the DOMA brief, OFA's efforts, or lack thereof, in Maine. The Obama administration I recall, actually, President Obama himself called the Massachusetts police officer in the Henry Louis Gates incidents and said he could have phrased his words better, gave a kind of apology. We haven't seen anything like that for any of the slights towards our community. Do you think the administration should apologize for some of its actions?

Rea: You know, what we want out of the Obama administration is for him to live up to his promise to be the fierce advocate for LGBT people. He has not lived up to that promise yet. There has been progress made yesterday with the policy coming out of the Department of Labor, one of our takes, because there are really two bodies we're talking about here: Congress, who we feel needs to move much faster on LGBT equality; and the administration, which we feels needs to move much faster on LGBT equality. And this is people's lives, it's not just policy wonkiness. This is about people's lives and things that are or are not happening to allow them to live full lives. We want much more out of Congress and the administration to be doing something about that. And we've actually headed up a project, a coalition project of organizations, to push the admin on just that. We took about a year and half prior to whoever would become President in something called the New Beginning Initiative, to take an inventory of the federal government, find discrimination wherever it exists, write policies that relate to LGBT people, and give them to the administration, and that's exactly what we've been doing for nine months, and we will continue to press them to do that.

Q: But you don't think the administration has a responsibility to apologize for the mistakes it's made?

Rea: You'd have to ask the administration if they think they are mistakes. Which are you talking about?

Q: Do you think inviting Rick Warren to speak was a mistake? Do you think language in the DOMA brief, which you said was offensive, was a mistake?

Rea: We thought the DOMA language was a mistake, we thought inviting Rick Warren, who had been explicitly homophobic, was a mistake in our view-

Q: Don't you think the administration should apologize for that?

Rea: I don't know that the administration sees those as mistakes. We would like the administration to not make choices that support homophobia and discrimination in this country and unfortunately, they have.

Q: On the movement of issues in general, what do you see as the timeline for ENDA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

Rea: We were pleased Tammy Baldwin's bill [to extend benefits to the partners of LGBT federal employees] went through markup in the committee, that's significant progress and we're very pleased about that. ENDA, we want there to be a House vote this year, before the end of the year. The committee markup is next and then a House vote. Barney Frank has said that vote may not happen until the first part of next year. We certainly hope that isn't the case. We'd like it to happen sooner than that because there are people in this country who are losing their jobs or at the risk of losing their jobs because of who they are. And there are members of the military who are either staying painfully in the closet or being kicked out of the military. We want that overturned as well. And with the Senate side on ENDA, what was discussed in the hearing recently, Harkin said he felt there would be a vote in the spring. So we certainly expect that, and we'll push for a vote on the Senate side as well.

Q: Since it looks like we have to wrap up, are there any other thoughts you have on the state of the movement and what we could be doing better?

Rea: The last year has been a very powerful year for our movement, and part of it because of the losses we've experienced. But what has come out of that is a galvanizing of energy, of passion for equality, and not just among LGBT people. People who are newer to activism, or younger and just coming into it, have incredible energy, incredible ideas, incredible action. One of the things that the Task Force, which has been around for 36 years, and mobilized people around sodomy repeal, and around HIV issues, it's exciting to see so many people be engaged in whatever they can in their lives, and that gives me a lot of hope. We are a movement that doesn't give up, and we've seen that again and again. We are a movement on the local, state, and federal arenas, and we're going to continue to see a lot of progress. One of the things about marriage and the dominance in the media and the public sphere is that we've actually made all this other progress. Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about it, unless you're playing insider baseball. But we've made progress in non-discrimination. We won in Kalamazoo. We won in Washington State this year. We've made progress on the legislative levels. We've gotten people elected. That's amazing progress that's going to continue.

Cross-posted at

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Something doesn't smell right about this ENDA postponement. I don't understand why everything else is more important than ENDA.

As always I find the NGLtf to be hypocritical. They claim to represent the LGBTQ community but they can't put it in the name or chose a name that is non-exclusive. They continue to insist on using a name that excludes a significant portion of our community by only presenting a portion of our community.
It isn't like they haven't been told and asked to consider making their name match their claimed mission.
As far as I am concerned they remain a subsidiary of HRC. I know that I keep responding to them this way on TBP but I'm going to keep calling them out on it until they develop integrity. We invited them to attend a bi media event at the NYC LGBT Center earlier this year and as usual they were full of mealy mouthed platitudes and no actual movement on the issue. As usual I urge everyone to refuse to donate to them until their name and their claimed mission match.
If they just claimed to act on the behalf of LG people who are in their name that would be fine. But they claim to act on the behalf of the who community and yet they continue to use a name that renders bi trans and queer people invisible. They want our donation but we just can't be front door company and I'm not using the back door.
This is exactly what we as activists need to move away from in the nGLtf and the HRC types.

Getting Obama to apologize for the language of the DOMA brief or for inviting Donnie McClurkin is kinda like pressing Bill Clinton to apologize for Lewinsky. There are more important things to focus on.

The Republicans pressured Clinton to apologize. I remember watching the 7 PM evening news when I was younger, and every time Clinton did so it made the news "today, President Clinton repeated his apology outside a formal dinner for...". He did so at press conferences, at presidential events, when shouted at by reporters. It (a) reinforced the negativity of what he had done, and public perception of that (b) kept the story alive.

So I don't think you picked quite the apt comparison for the point you were trying to make. I would be delighted to give legs to the story of any one of their screw-ups after it happens.

Fascinating interview, Adam. I'll have to re-read it to get the full scope.

I am sorry but how is NGLTF relevant any more? What do they do to earn their budget? I am not a huge fan of HRC, but it is HRC that is the lobby shop for the community in Washington, and that is involved in grassroots political work. When is the last thing that NGLTF did anything notable, on its own initiative, instead of taking "me too" credit primarily earned by HRC or a statewide organization?

Rea is not very bright. I don't think he was very honest in this interview. Plus, NGLTF is a very poorly rated charity:

There is no reason to expect anything from NGLTF - why the continue to operate is a good question. Rea didn't say anything that created even a little "hope," or confidence.

HRC wastes $30 million a year. What do we have to show for it?