Editors' note: Kara Suffredini is executive director of MassEquality.
As Sen. Scott Brown embarks on his re-election bid - the latest news in that regard is that he's sitting on a $7 million war chest - I have been asked repeatedly whether Brown's vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would earn him MassEquality's support in 2012.
The short answer? No. Not if supporting repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is all Brown does to address the needs of the LGBT community.
Brown deserves praise for breaking with his party to vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He was one of only eight Senate Republicans to do so. And the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is an enthusiastically welcome and hopeful step in the right direction. But there is much more work left to be done.
Rates of HIV infection are high in our community, while funding to fight this pandemic is stagnating at current levels and decreasing. It's legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation in 29 states, and because of their gender identity in 38 states, including Massachusetts. Same-sex couples can marry in only five states and the District of Columbia, but no marriage is yet honored by the federal government.
Healthy People 2020, the federal government's ambitious 10-year agenda for improving the nation's health, identifies significant health care disparities between the LGBT community and the general population ranging from higher rates of substance abuse and obesity to lower rates of health care access. And it's now unmistakably part of the public consciousness that anti-LGBT bullying is leading some LGBT youth, and those perceived to be, to end their lives.
If Brown is interested in our support - and we certainly hope he is - he has plenty of opportunity to earn it between now and 2012. Here's how he can do it.
First and foremost, he can back the rights of every LGBT person in America to earn a living. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit employers from firing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We can think of no reason why Brown would oppose it, especially since Brown has made economic revitalization such an important part of his legislative agenda.
He can support the Uniting American Families Act and the Respect for Marriage Act. The first would end the practice of making bi-national same-sex couples choose between their families and their country by allowing American citizens sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration. The second would permit all lawfully married couples in the United States to receive the benefits of marriage offered under federal law.
He can follow the lead of Massachusetts, which passed an anti-bullying law last year, and support the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Together, these bills would prevent discrimination and bullying against all youth in schools and help our youth focus on what they go to school to do: learn.
He can support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would expand the number of potential families available for children in need of foster and adoptive homes by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status when placing children with families.
As a vocal proponent of family values, we can think of no reason why the Senator would oppose any of these measures.
Will we be supporting Sen. Brown in 2012? It's up to Brown.
The sentence which read "The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit employers from firing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation." was updated to read "The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit employers from firing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity." --Ed.