CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hours before the Democratic National Convention’s opening session was called to order Tuesday night, a record number of more than 550 LGBT delegates, alternate delegates and convention committee members met as a recognized convention caucus.
Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Adviser to the President; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Tammy Baldwin, the lesbian Democratic House member from Wisconsin who’s running for the U.S. Senate, were among a parade of elected officials and Democratic Party leaders to speak at the caucus meeting.
While greeting each of the speakers with loud applause, many of the LGBT delegates and convention participants said the big news of the day was the size of their caucus and its growth over the past two decades.
“History is being made this week,” said Minnesota gay delegate Rick Stafford, who serves as chair of the LGBT Caucus. “There’s over 550 LGBT Americans who are an official part of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.”
Stafford said that for the first time all 50 states have sent at least one or more LGBT delegates to a Democratic convention.
“Please let everyone know we are here to be seen and heard,” said Brandon Marcus, an out gay member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and one of 12 LGBT delegates and alternates from the Tar Heel state.
Marcus, who said he was proud to welcome his fellow LGBT convention participants to his home state, said he was certain that the cause for LGBT equality in North Carolina advanced this year despite the fact that voters passed Amendment 1, which added a provision to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.
“The cause was not lost with Amendment 1,” he said.
Jarrett said efforts by the LGBT Caucus members and their supporters throughout the country on behalf of LGBT rights made it possible for the Obama administration to move forward with the president’s legislative and executive office initiatives on LGBT equality.
“With your efforts we have been able to move our country forward, I believe, in a fair way that respects everybody’s rights,” she said. “And that’s something that’s the foundation of our country and it’s something we can’t take for granted. We have to fight for it and make our country the more perfect union we know it can be.”
Jarrett received a prolonged, standing ovation when she added, “And I believe we are a more perfect union than we were four years ago.”
Sebelius said the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which banned gays from serving openly in the military, and the passage by Congress of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which authorizes the federal government to prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes, were an important part of the president’s legislative proposals.
But she said that due to opposition from the Republican-controlled Congress, most of the Obama administration’s achievements on LGBT rights came from directives from the president and federal agencies and departments under the president’s control.
Non-discrimination polices in federal housing programs, hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners, a ban on employment discrimination for transgender people in the federal workforce are among many of the Obama administration’s LGBT-related initiatives, members of the LGBT Caucus said.
“A lot of what you heard about today is not the law of the land,” Sebelius said. “It really is administrative rules and regulations that are in place and which can be wiped out in a heartbeat. With a change in the White House much of the litany of what you’ve just heard is gone.”
She said one task that LGBT Caucus members could take on to help ensure Obama’s re-election is to reach out to younger voters who support LGBT equality and other progressive causes in large numbers but who often don’t turn out to vote.
“Younger voters are enthusiastically in favor of equality for all,” she said. “But too many of them are not yet engaged in this election. They’re our voters but they are kind of sitting on the sidelines.
“So one of the things that has to be done in the next 63 days is, first, make sure they are registered and secondly get them to vote. And you all have a great microphone to do that – to talk to them about the LGBT issues at stake,” Sebelius said.
Baldwin is scheduled to address the convention Thursday night before President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden deliver their respective speeches. She told the LGBT Caucus she would provide needed support for the president’s initiatives on a wide range of issues, including LGBT equality and health care, if she wins her Senate race.
She said she believes she has a “very close” race against her GOP opponent, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Some political observers have said Thompson, considered a GOP moderate on social issues, emerged as the strongest Republican opponent to run against Baldwin when he won the GOP primary.
“An election is about who writes the rules and who benefits from them,” Baldwin said.