Thursday, January 10, 2008

HRC's Birch: 'No Advances' Under Clinton,
2008 = Life or Death for Gays
(HRC's NH field organizer, Heather Gibson, on the left, and Elizabeth Birch, former leader of HRC, on the right.)
Money quote from the long, and rather excellent, article in today's Bay Windows giving an overview of the Human Rights Campaign's effort in New Hampshire:
"[Former HRC president Elizabeth] Birch explained her advocacy for Clinton as a 'life and death' issue.
"'At this moment of history for us it’s life and death. For other people it’s a wonderful privilege but for us it’s literally our lives,' said Birch, who points to the need for LGBT people to effectively care for their partners and children, the ongoing scourge of HIV/AIDS among gay men and the need for more research into the unique health issues that face lesbians.
"And there are still no protections for LGBT people at the federal level, Birch pointed out.
"Then somewhat ironically, Birch, whose HRC tenure spanned the Bill Clinton years, added, that, 'You’ll hear Clinton people try to say, ’Oh, we made such advances.’ We made no advances. We got left with ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the Defense of Marriage Act.
"So were there reasons for that? Yes. However, there’s cleanup to do now and we have to move forward and get laws in place."
As one who criticized HRC for being completely blank on their web site over the weekend about the group's efforts to promote our visibility and issues leading up to the vote on Tuesday, I'm thankful for Laura Kiritsky's comprehensive story.
Given the millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of members HRC should easily be able to keep the community informed about 2008 primaries and their engagement in all the states with early caucuses and primaries.
But I digress from my central point: Birch is right. This election is a life or death matter for us and there is much cleanup needed for us because of the two Clinton White House terms in the 1990s.
The funny thing is, I think we have this cleanup to take care of thanks in no small part to HRC's shameless excusing of Bill Clinton throwing us under the bus on DOMA and DADT, and their soft criticism of him. I shudder to think of docile HRC will be if the other HRC gets herself elected to the Oval Office.
If Elizabeth Birch is out on the campaign trail because the 2008 presidential race is of life or death importance for gays, she might take a stab at answering the question of why her successor, starlet hobnobbing Joe Solmonese, isn't also active on the primary trail.
And what are HRC plans for engaging the community and press in the next primary states, Nevada, and the local HRC chapter in Las Vegas, and Michigan and South Carolina? There isn't much info on their web site right now, but that can change.
It isn't just a matter of which HRC leaders are on the primary trail or walking red carpets instead, or a lack of up-to-date details on their election work, or a failure to post on their site a public plan central to promoting the gay vote, that concern me.
What is of concern is asking if HRC is performing the best job possible on our behalf, and if their stewardship of the millions of gay dollars they have in the bank for the 2008 presidential is satisfactory. Anyone want to grade HRC's primary work so far?


This thoughtful reply comes from longtime gay legal scholar, and occasional activist, Arthur S. Leonard, who certainly know his stuff, and offers a more balanced picture:
Liz Birch certainly exaggerates.
We made important advances under Clinton.
We got for the first time executive orders protecting executive branch employees from sexual orientation discrimination.
We got a total revamping of the security clearance process that ended the "special procedures" under which gay people were frequently delayed or denied on security clearances, a real problem for people in technology occupations working for government contractors.
We got the first openly gay federal judge, the first openly gay ambassador, the first openly gay people occupying positions requiring Senate confirmation (like Roberta Achtenberg), the first openly gay people in senior White House staff positions.
We got a major advance on asylum policy when Janet Reno adopted as official precedent a decision that gays are a "distinct social group" for purposes of analyzing eligibility for political asylum in the US for people from oppressive countries.
And we got the first president who did not spout reflexively anti-gay positions from the White House on every issue.
What we didn't get, unfortunately, was good pro-gay legislation, and the fault was largely because the Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress for 6 out of the 8 years of the Clinton Administration.
I agree that DADT on the military was a disaster, and that the Defense of Marriage Act represented shameless political calculation by Clinton in his 1996 re-election campaign.
He calculated, probably correctly, that the only way to take same-sex marriage off the table as a campaign issue (and to avoid a federal constitutional amendment writing a ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution) was to agree to DOMA, which was originally proposed, I believe, by Bob Dole.
We need to remember that DOMA was passed by a Congress controlled by the Republican Party, not the Democrats (although it is surely true that Democrats, if united against it, could have filibustered it in the Senate).
We need to think contextually about this and about DADT. I fault Clinton for failing to provide the leadership he should have provided back in 1993 when the military issue exploded. The best explanation is that he was confronted by leading Democrats, especially in the Senate, who told him that letting gays serve openly would not fly politically in Congress.
Anyone who says we got NOTHING from the Clinton years and were set backwards is oversimplifying and misrepresenting the state of affairs. It is a mixed picture overall, and we made real progress, mainly on fronts that could be controlled solely by the executive branch due to the lack of control by Democrats of the legislative branch.
We also, importantly, got our first major Supreme Court victory, Romer v. Evans, which was at least party attributable to Clinton's two Supreme Court appointments, Breyer and Ginsburg, both of whom have been pretty stalwart in supporting gay rights on the Court. (They both voted our way in Lawrence v. Texas, and they both dissented in the Boy Scouts case.) Indeed, all of GW Bush's Supreme Court appointees are firm opponents of gay rights.


Unknown said...

Here's another thoughtful view on Bill Clinton and his time in the
White House, this time from Sister Mary Elizabeth, the fantastic woman who runs the incredibly resourceful HIV/AIDS web site

Hi Mike,

I have to disagree a bit with the community view of the Clinton years.

Presidental candidates make big claims on what they are going to do, but
in reality, it is Congress that holds the purse strings and makes the
laws. Clinton could have issued an executive order allowing gays and
transgendered to serve openly in the military (keep in mind that I'm the
only transgender to serve openly in the military as both male and
female, albeit my female service was cut short after 22 months).

The moment Bill Clinton announced he was going to issue an executive
order, Senator Sam Nunn went on the warpath, taking his dog and pony
show on the road to lobby against the executive order. The American
people followed by electing a Republican congress, essentially tying
Clinton's hands.

Two things are going to have to happen before Gays can serve openly.
Article 125 of the Uniform Military Code of Justice has to be revised or
repealed, and Congress has to pass a law allowing gays (and
transgendered) to serve openly in the military.

Clinton was faced with some hard decisions during his term of office.
He veto'd some bills that were gay and transgendered friendly, yes. But
what was attached to those bills? Basically legislation that would have
been disastrous to the country at large. I know it sucks, but
Washington isn't a nice place, and attaching junk legislation to an
important bill is one way of killing it.

During the Clinton years I ran the White House NAPO electronic bullet
board from my living room, and made two trips to Washington to service
and upgrade the board. On my first trip there were 28 employees in the
office. On my second trip, after the Rethugs took control of Congress,
the office had been stripped of 24 of its employees.

Clinton was far from perfect, but I do believe that Congress shares more
of the blame that Clinton, for what happened during his two terms. One
of the errors he made was not firing Colin Powell, when he publicly
spoke out about Clinton's plan to allow gays in the military. Remember,
when the much loved MacArthur spoke out publicly against Truman, Truman
fired him.

Best always,

Anonymous said...

so, if Birch is disappointed in the Clinton's, tell me again why she is campaigning for them?

nr davis said...

Indeed. If Liz Birch blames the Clintons for the hell in which we live, why is she supporting the Clintons now? And her statements -- they're the same things I said to her face more than a decade ago, the same things that apparently got me branded as an HRC hater. I am NOT a member of HRC on principle, but neither do I hate the organization. Quite the contrary. I don't hate Liz either (politricks is no reason to hate anyone, even Bush); though given her statements now, I know she can't be trusted to speak the truth when it counts. And while I can respect someone who disagrees with me, I can't respect those who are dishonest. And I strongly suspect the statements Liz made to Bay Windows reflect how she really felt back then too.

As for

"We need to remember that DOMA was passed by a Congress controlled by the Republican Party, not the Democrats"

Yes, the GOPs were in control, but does that excuse the cowardly, discriminatory vote of Democrat Barbara Mikulski just hours after she stated on the floor of the US Senate that "discrimination is wrong, plain and simple"? Or the Democrat president who made a vicious, ugly, expedient political choice and then crowed about it on right-wing radio? I blame the GOP, definitely, but I blame dirty-handed Dems. Like Mikulski. Like Clinton. Like the go-along-to-get-scraps Barney Fife, er, Frank. Like Liz Birch. and Joe Solmonese.

Which is precisely why I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican (save for messing with gop minds) and choose to be a solid, determined, principled Independent with integrity -- something that seems to be sorely lacking in the two "major" parties.