The Obama administration hosted a briefing for LGBT leaders who will be attending this afternoon's pride reception at the White House. About 75 people from around the nation attended the session at the Old Executive Office Building. I was invited to attend as a reception attendee and not as press.
Several administration officials spoke to the group of activists and updated them on issues ranging from "Don't Ask Don't Tell" to LGBT housing initiatives. Interestingly enough, when Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality gave the introduction and listed off the administration's accomplishments, only the decision to stop defending DOMA received applause; during the question and answer portions following each speaker, however, marriage got short shrift as attendees asked about hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, mental health issues, and how the administration is promoting LGBT rights abroad.
I asked two questions of Matt Nosanchuk, the Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. First I asked why there haven't been any prosecutions of LGBT hate crimes in the past two years since the law was passed. With many documented cases of arson, murder and assault continuing, why isn't the Department of Justice prosecuting any of these cases?
My second question came after the official Q&A portion was finished, but I caught Mr. Nosanchuk at the door to ask why the Washington Blade was reporting that the DOJ had just appealed a California bankruptcy judge's decision that DOMA is unconstitutional.
Both answers after the break.
Nosanchuk told the gathering of folks that there haven't been any hate crimes prosecutions because the Department of Justice wanted to make sure it had a complete case that would lead to a conviction for their first swing at bat. The department has been helping and training local and state law enforcement agencies on how to prosecute hate crimes, he said, and were hampered by a requirement that the crimes affect interstate commerce.
Personally, I was a little unsatisfied by that answer. My home state of Indiana doesn't have a statewide hate crimes law and even though crimes have been committed that authorities have deemed a hate crime, nothing can be done. The DOJ can't train law enforcement on how to handle this when there's no law to use in Indiana. Since the crime didn't involve interstate commerce, there was no federal intervention either. In effect, nothing was done to prosecute the hate crime. I wasn't allowed to have a follow up question because of time restraints or I'd have asked how the DOJ is helping states like Indiana.
In response to my question about the DOJ's appeal of the DOMA decision, he hastened to say that the Blade article was slightly skewed. The administration will not be defending DOMA, he said. Instead, the DOJ was required to file paperwork that would allow the House of Representatives to intervene since they have decided to defend DOMA. Nosanchuk was definite that the department would not be defending the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, but were obligated to continue complying with the law while it remains on the books.
All in all, the crowd at the briefing was engaged and asked thoughtful questions that stepped well outside of the usual marriage mantra. For an issue that seems to dominate the public conversation, privately these LGBT leaders from around the nation were more concerned with issues that had a more direct impact on their lives. After all, all politics is local.
Speaker List at LGBT Pride Month Policy Briefing
Nancy Sutley, Chair, Council on Environmental Quality
Brian Bond, Deputy Director, White House Office of Public Engagement
Don't Ask Don't Tell Update
Douglas B Wilson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Jeh C. Johnson, General Counsel, US Department of Defense
LGBT Health & HHS Intitiatives
Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary, Administration for Aging, US Department of Health and Human Services
US Department of Justice Update
Matt Nosanchuk, Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, US Department of Justice
International LGBT Administration Efforts
David Pressman, Director for War Crimes and Atrocities, White House National Security Council
LGBT Housing Initiatives
John Trasvina, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, US Department of Housing and Urban Development
Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and Senior Advisor on Disability Policy
Greg Millett, Senior Scientist and HHS/CDC Liaison to the Office of National AIDS Policy
Jon Carson, Director, White House Office of Public Engagement