Each year for the last three years, The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund of San Francisco has held an LGBT blogger and newspaper summit to increase awareness on issues that need focus. The first year, held at the Desmond Tutu Conference Center in New York City, dealt with immigration; the second, in San Francisco, discussed LGBT youth issues such as bullying and homelessness. This year, the subject was the 2012 election.
Haas does an outstanding job selecting speakers and presenters for the panel workshops, which are all held in one day. It's sort of like a speed dating of subjects for journalists. With Bil Browning and Matt Foreman, former head of The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, at the helm this conference has become a way for those in LGBT media to not only meet the newsmakers and explore complex issues, it's also a space to share our commonality of experiences and wonder, are we the LGBT elite media?
Haas Convening host Bil Browning and attendees Joe Mirabella and Kevin Farrell. (Photo credit: Jeremy Hooper)
This year we met in Houston, Texas. The night before the conference, Haas hosted a dinner with openly lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker. She was not only candid, but you could tell she was delighted to have LGBT media meeting in her city. One of the first questions she was asked was, "Do you intend to marry your partner?" followed by, "Will Texas ever pass marriage equality"? At one point she joked that she'd rather talk about the city's new sewage system.
This became a recurring theme at this year's gathering. No matter what the subject of the panel was, the questions always turned to marriage equality. It was the issue du jour.
Like the recent successful battle to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it is almost impossible to get some journalists to notice that there are other issues as important -- if not more important -- for the LGBT community. As one trans activist posed: "Has marriage equality kidnapped the movement?" Are important funds which could be used for LGBT homelessness, health and nondiscrimination going to a cause that, while important, is not as crucial as an 18-year-old living on the streets, a teacher being fired, a couple being tossed out of their rental apartment, a battered child, a clinic that won't understand that lesbians have a higher rate of breast cancer or the abuse of our elders in senior housing?
While it is easy to say that hundreds of thousands of people would benefit from marriage equality, it is also true that many of those people already live in places where most of the heavy lifting has been done and they have secured nondiscrimination laws, have working LGBT health clinics, a community center and a safe place for LGBT youth? But what about the vast majority of LGBT people in this nation who don't have any protections from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations? Don't we owe it to them to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?
Personally, I don't care about the evolution that President Obama is undergoing on marriage equality: He'll get there and, being politically pragmatic, I hope it's after the November election. (Think swing states Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.)
As to the Democratic Party having a marriage-equality plank -- how many people read a party's platform? Better yet, how many elected officials actually govern from their party's platform? It's a great step forward and something that the party should do. It will advance the issue in places that are already predisposed to do so, and may alienate those areas that are not yet educated on the issue.
Our main focus now should be to get the tools needed to re-elect Obama. The question for us is, can we trust his evolution on the subject so that after the election he becomes the advocate we need? His record already gives us that answer.
In each state where there are ballot initiatives regarding the subject, he's stated very soundly that he does not believe you take away rights or put them on the ballot. And this is not a recent evolution. In 2008, in the Pennsylvania primary, legislation was pending in the state senate to change the constitution to declare that marriage is between a man and a woman. At the time, he urged Pennsylvania lawmakers not to pass that legislation. And recently he did the same with similar legislation in North Carolina.
Case closed. Let's move on.