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D.C. Diary: Federal LGBT Hate Crimes Legislation Signing

Signing1

Guestblogger COREY JOHNSON

Yesterday was an historic day for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. The hate crimes measure named in honor of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. which was signed by President Obama in an early afternoon ceremony yesterday in the East Room at the White House modifies the 1969 federal hate-crime law covering crimes motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin, expanding it to cover gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

This is the first piece of federal legislation signed into law that explicitly covers LGBT citizens. Advocates for this law have been fighting since 1999 to pass the measure but with Republicans controlling Congress from 1995 until 2007 and President Bush, who opposed the measure, holding office until early 2009 -- this year was the first opportunity for the stars to align.

Hate crimes protections have had broad support with the American public and before today had existed in a patchwork-form in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Perhaps members of the House and Senate are now closer to realizing that voting for pro-LGBT pieces of legislation will not be detrimental to their re-election chances and that doing so is the right, fair and just thing to do.

The irony of the signing ceremony, complete with military commanders, members of the House and Senate who oversee military issues, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, was that it looked more like what you'd envision for the signing of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Nonetheless, I felt lucky to be able to bear witness as a credentialed member of the media.

Signing2 At the David Bohnett Foundation-sponsored reception later, attended by the Shepard and Byrd families, energy was palpable and emotions ran high among advocates who have waited for this moment for a very long time. Approximately 150 activists, movement leaders, donors and openly gay staffers from the administration were in attendance.

A partial list of folks that caught my eye were; Ray Buckley who is the Democratic State Chair in New Hampshire and Vice-Chair of the Democration National Committee, long-time civil rights leader and blogger David Mixner, Richard Socarides from the Clinton White House years, Mara Keisling the head of the National Transgender Center for Equality, one of the grandfathers from our movement — Frank Kameny, Cathy Renna, who works with and helps various local and national gay and lesbian organizations, all three openly gay members of Congress -- Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis, Elizabeth Birch who was the former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign and current president of the HRC Joe Solmonese, recording artist and ally Cyndi Lauper, Chuck Wolfe who leads the Victory Fund, Fred Hochberg who is the administration's appointee to lead the Export-Import Bank, Melissa Sklarz who co-chairs the National Stonewall Democrats board, the President's appointee to run the Office of Personnel Management John Berry, as well as various other folks. Standing at the back of the room were White House Chief of Staff Rahmn Emanuel and Senior Advisor to the President David Axelrod. Attorney General Eric Holder and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett were also present.

Now the question becomes: when will the array of other bills (an inclusive-Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of both Don't Ask-Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, the Uniting American Families Act) be acted upon by Congress? And will President Obama speak openly and forcefully in letting members of Congress now that these bills are a priority (just like he has on health care reform and climate change) and should be passed?

LGBT citizens need to do their part as well -- which means placing phone calls, writing letters, visiting Representatives and Senators offices to let them know that the time is now. Our families, friends and co-workers should do the same.

I came out to my family in March of 1999 and I distinctly remember that six months earlier a young man in Wyoming was brutally murdered because of his sexual orientation. It was an honor to witness history more than a decade later and it was especially gratifying to see all of hard work that Judy Shepard, Dennis Shepard, Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris' work finally come to fruition.

Yesterday was a meaningful day in the journey for civil rights -- but it was only a first step. It's my hope that sooner rather than later President Obama will be signing a similar bill with Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates standing behind him but we will only get there with his leadership on these crucial issues.


Attorney General Eric Holder Praises Hate Crimes Law, Lacks Familiarity with Maine Marriage Equality Ballot Measure

Holder

Guestblogger COREY JOHNSON

I just left the signing of the Department of Defense Authorization bill, to which the the inclusive hate-crimes bill was attached. It was a very moving occasion and I'll have a post later reflecting on this historic day for the LGBT community, but for now some remarks from Attorney General Eric Holder. I took the (blurry, apologies) photo above of Holder, Judy Shepard, and White House Office of Public Engagement Deputy Director Brian Bond just before the ceremony.

Holder made himself available just after the event and was asked a few questions. I was able to ask him to clarify his recent weak remarks on Question 1 in Maine, but unfortunately Holder said he was not familiar with the ballot measure.

Said Holder: "I think this is the next great civil rights bill. We have after ten, twelve years finally come to recognize that federal law should apply, as the President said, to all Americans. This is a great tool for the Justice Department and will I think significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, for women and for gay and lesbian Americans. This is a great, great day and too long coming."

A follow-up was asked about what actions the Justice Department's civil rights division can take tomorrow that they couldn't take today on hate crimes.

Answered Holder: "We can give assistance to state and local prosecutors who will investigate the vast majority of these crimes and in those instances where they don't have the ability to or desire, we can now prosecute these crimes and we could not do that thirty minutes ago. Now we can."

Recalling Holder's recent appearance in Maine at which he was asked about Question 1 and surprisingly refused to take a stand, I wanted to see if he had any clarification, so I asked him, "You were in Maine earlier this week and were asked about Question 1, which would take away same-sex marriage. You didn't comment on it at the time but would you like to clarify?"

Said Holder: "Well, what I said was that the President has indicated and I personally favor of the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and that is something we are working to do."

I replied, "And the referendum in Maine -- would you like to speak further on that?"

Holder's answer? "I don't really know enough about the referendum over there to comment."


Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: I Would Support Amending 1964 Civil Rights Bill to Cover Gay Rights

Gillibrand

Andy and I had the chance to sit down and interview United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at the LGBT Community Center in New York City on Sunday afternoon. 

Watch the interview, AFTER THE JUMP...

Gillibrand2We spoke to the Senator about the legislative road to repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', critics who have questioned her convictions on LGBT issues, the marriage equality battle in New York State and also if she'd be supportive of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation.

Said the Senator: "I would [be supportive of that]. I truly believe that this gay rights agenda is the civil rights march of our generation. I think marriage equality, I think repealing DOMA, Don't Ask, Don't Tell. All of that work we're doing is part of equal rights in America and it is something that is so important to this generation. I think that kind of bill would be transformational...Whether we have the votes for that kind of bill today, I don't know. But it's something certainly worth fighting for."

Gillibrand3 Senator Gillibrand had a small private meeting with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists from five boroughs before holding a larger event that was open to the general public. Lt. Dan Choi introduced her at the public event and she updated the audience on the current pieces of legislation before the Congress that are of importance to the gay community. She then took questions from the crowd. During the question and answer period she told a few personal anecdotes related to growing up in a political family where her grandmother had a close gay couple as friends and also how during her career as a senior associate at a law firm she had plenty of gay colleagues.

Watch our interview, and a brief video clip from Gillibrand's talk at the center in which she discusses why LGBT rights are important to her, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: I Would Support Amending 1964 Civil Rights Bill to Cover Gay Rights" »


AC360 Talks Hate Crimes with Corey Johnson and Dan Savage

Ac360

Towleroad's political director Corey Johnson joined The Stranger's Dan Savage on Anderson Cooper's show to discuss passage of the hate crimes bill and the current climate with regard to LGBT rights.

This was Corey's first appearance on AC360 as a representative of Towleroad. Congrats to Corey and thanks to Anderson for having him on.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "AC360 Talks Hate Crimes with Corey Johnson and Dan Savage" »


National Equality March: Laying of the Wreath at Arlington, and Interview with Lieutenant Dan Choi

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I didn't have a chance to process this clip earlier this week. It featuresf the Knights Out 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery during the National Equality March last weekend, and our interview with Lieutenant Dan Choi.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "National Equality March: Laying of the Wreath at Arlington, and Interview with Lieutenant Dan Choi" »


Interview: Lady Gaga at the National Equality March

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Here's a brief chat we just had with Lady Gaga following her remarks at the National Equality March this afternoon. Wow. The March was an incredible success. I've got tons of photos to go through, and plenty of video, but it takes a while to process so I'll be putting it out as soon as I can edit it.

In addition to yesterday's interviews with March co-director Robin McGehee and David Mixner, we've got an interview with Lt. Dan Choi, Hair's Gavin Creel, a brief chat with Cleve Jones, and a bunch of March footage which I'll try to whip into some sort of shape.

As far as the attendance of the March goes, the police gave us a number of between 200,000 and 250,000. The turn-out of young people was spectacular and inspiring.

I've posted our chat with Gaga, plus her remarks as carried by C-Span, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Interview: Lady Gaga at the National Equality March" »


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