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2009: What will the "big issues" be?

As we round the bend here in 2008, we know what we've got ahead of us for the next few months: possibly one of the most important elections in America in the last decade. However, win or lose this November, what are the big issues going to be for the LTGB community in 2009? Will it be immigration equality? Gender Identity issues? Military openness? What about tax reform for domestic partnerships? Could it be housing or employment non-discrimination rights? Or could it be Hate Crimes legislation? We have hundreds of issues that we individually face every day. For example, being that my partner and I are a bi-national couple, I find immigration equality is a big one for me. We are constantly praying that this year's entry into the 'Green Card lottery' is the one that's going to finally be picked. There are many issues we face because of this--we can't go to California or Massachusetts to marry because that may compromise his Visa, as it may be seen as intention to remain here. We are a little unsure about our future here in the country. However, to the lesbian mother who has been fired from a job where she had previously been a highly praised star performer, immigration equality does not seem as dire. So what do you think are the really important issues for 2009?

To start, we need to articulate what the issues are. Then we can start focusing on where we can focus to get the most 'bang for our buck.' Which wins will garner us the most momentum?

Here is a short list of just a few of the issues I believe will affect us in 2009 and why. I hope you will comment and help me improve this list.


1. Workplace Equality.
Having and keeping gainful employment is the most fundamental key to survival in America. This is a basic human right that we must preserve for all people, because a person's livelihood is at stake when employers are allowed to fire people based on religious preferences. This is something a majority of Fortune 500 companies have already recognized, but something smaller companies have some distance to cover. Therefore, I think that not having an Employment Non-Discrimination law that covers LTGB people is a huge failure for our nation, and needs to become the top issue for our community's leaders. However, the petty bickering over ENDA over the past year has done little to help the LTGB community. Our leaders need to rally together and create a single, all-inclusive strategy for success in this area, and coordinate that strategy with our allied law-makers. This may mean some compromise, but it also must mean sticking to a path, regardless of how complicated it may be. If we do not ensure this BASIC AND FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT for every member of our community, we've basically failed the entire community. If we go forward unified and unwavering with full zeal we will garner success. A NOTE ON GENDER IDENTITY: If we do not get gender identity included in this law, the law will be useless. Employers will be free to fire non-transgender gays and lesbians because they aren't masculine or feminine enough and don't conform to traditional gender stereotypes. Savvy lawyers on the Right have used wild defenses in the past, and this will surely come into play. Therefore, an ENDA that includes Gender Identity is the only version that will be fully enforceable. A NOTE ON DON'T ASK DON'T TELL: Because Don't Ask Don't Tell requires folks to be FIRED from their JOBS--which happen to be military jobs--this is a form of Workplace Discrimination. Whatever your feelings on the military, if we allow Workplace Discrimination anywhere in our nation--especially for a 'government job' like that of soldier, translator or medic--we are saying we're ok with Workplace Discrimination and are allowing it ANYWHERE. I think the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and ENDA go together, and must both be passed.

2. Hate Crimes Protection.
LTGB people--and especially trans-people--are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes, according to our own FBI's statistics. LTGB folk need to be added to current federal hate crime statutes to enforce harsher punishments for people who target victims based on community association, rather than individual traits. Of course I believe that crime usually does not entail any sort of love, so surely by that definition all crimes are hate (or at least non-love) crimes. However, Hate Crimes or Bias Crimes are crimes against a community or group, not crimes based on interpersonal conflict. Individuals are singled out and attacked based on their association with a specific group in a reactionary way with the intention of terrorizing that group and "putting them in their place." Bias Crimes ARE terrorism, and if we've got a war on terror, we ought to start at home. We need to shore up our grass-roots support for stronger hate crimes protections by helping the ordinary American understand what Bias Crimes are really about. Support organizations like The Matthew Shepard Foundation to get the job done.

3. Immigration Equality.
While the United States has already moved a step in the right direction last week by lifting the travel and immigration ban on people with AIDS (PWA) and HIV+ folk, we still need to allow Americans in binational same-sex relationships to sponsor their partners for citizenship just like married couples can. The Uniting American Families Act will help us end this discrimination. The problem is, over the past decade, this bill has come up in every single Congress (previously under the name "Permanent Partners Immigration Act") and--while it gets lots of bi-partisan cosponsors--it just can't get a hearing. LTGB rights groups like Immigration Equality really need to make this one of the top bills they talk about and repeat over and over again like a mantra while lobbying Capitol Hill in order to give the bill the urgency it needs to get a subcommittee hearing.

4. Relationship Recognition and Equal Families.
First thing: we need to STOP any more state constitutional amendments from passing by funneling money and volunteers into states with ballot initiative. This is a battle of shoe leather. We need to be out there and more visible than the other side. We have big important ones in Florida, Arizona and most notably California. Our big push as far as relationship recognition needs to be here so that we can stop the momentum of the Religious Right.
Second thing: we need to push domestic partnerships and civil unions in every state whose constitution will allow it. Do we want marriage there? Yes! However, some states' constitutions bar marriage but will allow us DP benefits. We need to work to get relationships social and legal recognition in these states. Marriage will follow when the Supreme Court is ready.
FINALLY: ADOPTION. With the help of organizations like The Family Equality Council (not to be confused with Family Research Council) we need to promulgate--state by state--adoption laws that cover the rights of gay and lesbian parents--whether adopting the child or their partner, or a couple adopting a brand new member of the family--we need to go state-by-state. I see the Federal Government getting behind this quickly if it becomes more the norm on a state level. I think this will be an easy law to pass through congress when the time is right.

5. More power on Capitol Hill/in state legislatures.
Our toughest fight yet is our fight in the court of Public Opinion. We're winning in corporate America, which is giving us an edge. Congress is notoriously behind the public when it comes to acceptance. Therefore, we need organizations like GLSEN, GLAAD, PFLAG the Gill Foundation and the like to help us win the battle for mainstream acceptance--and fast. The way to do this is to get out there, come out and live as open as is safe for you. This can be tricky. For example, I am a middle school teacher in a small farming community. Being out to parents and students could mean a whole lot of trouble for me. At the same time, I made sure that the administration of my school knew that I was gay before I even interviewed. I at least wanted to work for an open and welcoming employer. I knew that I would probably have to fly under the radar with the kids and parents and had mentally prepared for it. However, my bosses need to respect and accept me or else I'd rather go elsewhere. Be as out as you can to your friends, family and ESPECIALLY your neighbors. Be as out as possible at work. Then be the best that you can be at your job, and as a person. Like it or not, we're all spokespeople for our community. You're going to have to take up this challenge like a pro and be a light for the rest of us. In order to help gay youth be the best they can be, give to The LEAGUE Foundation scholarships for LTGB college bound high-schoolers, and then support OUTforWork, which helps soon to graduate college seniors in the LTGB community find job placement where they can really excel. When we prove we're just as good as anyone else, we'll win acceptance in mainstream America--and we will get less friction on Capitol Hill for lobbying and organizing groups like The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). We should also be giving money to the Victory Fund which helps get openly gay and lesbian candidates into office across the country. As we get a more welcoming society, our executive branch will turn as well. When our president and our governors are less abrasive toward our struggle, we'll see more gay-friendly courts deciding in favor of equality throughout the nation, where groups like Lambda Legal can win decisive victories there.

Another great organization to check out is gay Medical Equipment billionaire Jon Stryker's Arcus Foundation. They support non-urban gay and lesbian rights organizations... and protection of the Great Ape. An interesting group to at least check out. This definitely plays into our need for winning in the court of Public Opinion.

If you can't give of your money, give of your time. If you can't give of your time, give of your money. If you can't lead the fight, support the fight. Whatever you do, you have to give!

I hope that if you have anything to add to my thoughts you help me out by commenting your constructive comments to this post. Please expand my suggestions!


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