I am most reflective today as two significant announcements have captured my attention and filled my spirit with a renewed hopefulness: the rise of Barack Obama and the newly formed LGBT Congressional Caucus.
In 1980, African American gay activist Mel Boozer was nominated for Vice President at the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City. He told the convention that "bigotry is bigotry" and that homophobia dishonors our way of life just as much as racism, before withdrawing his nomination in favor of Walter Mondale. Boozer served as president of the District of Columbia Gay Activists Alliance from 1979 to 1981 and later became the District's director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Today we stand on the what Rev. Jesse Jackson has called another "mountain top," moment as Senator Barack Obama has secured the 2,118 delegates needed to become the first African American Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States.
How far we have come, Senator Obama Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996. He served for eight years and ran for United States Senate in 2004. His speech at the Democratic National Convention that year brought America's attention to this political newcomer as he openly embraced gay Americans.
In the Illinois State Senate Obama built bridges across party lines. He supported gay rights sponsoring legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and he gained a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood for his support of family planning and abortion rights legislation. Obama scored 89 out of 100% on the 2006 Human Rights Campaign Congressional scorecard. He co-sponsored legislation to expand federal hate crimes laws to include crimes perpetrated because of sexual orientation and gender identity. Further, he supports the passages of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Senator Obama believes we need to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. His campaign literature reads: "The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and willingness to serve." He also believes gays and lesbians should have the same rights to adopt children as heterosexuals.
Although Barack Obama is against gay marriage, he has stated that he supports civil unions. He also voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment and opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
In his nomination speech Boozer noted that, "For more than 200 years a majority of Americans waited to be admitted to the institutions of our nation on an equal footing." But his clarion voice of vision and leadership was gone too soon when in September of 1987 AIDS stole him from us. He was 41-years-old.
Senator Obama has challenged Black America and Black religious leaders to address homophobia. He has said he believes that homophobia is helping fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans.
Obama has pledged to construct and begin implementing "in the first year of his presidency... a comprehensive, HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies." He has also pledged to support both syringe exchange programs and comprehensive sex education in schools, as well as to end the federal government's promotion of abstinence-only sex education.
On treatment access, his AIDS platform declares his "strong support" for the Ryan White CARE Act, which is the primary vehicle for federal funding of the AIDS care safety net. He also co-sponsored a bill to make Medicaid more accessible to people living with HIV. Nevertheless, Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute has noted, "his platform's primary solution to the building AIDS treatment crisis in America is the broader health care reform he has proposed."
Wilson said, "While AIDS certainly must be addressed holistically, voters must insist Sen. Obama explain what he will do to ensure poor and uninsured people living with HIV/AIDS get access."
Bayard Rustin was an openly gay African American civil rights activist. He was the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and he counseled the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the techniques of nonviolent resistance. Rustin was a labor leader, a civil rights leader a leader for justice. Yet his place in the history books and in the leadership of his time has been largely obscured and minimized due to anti-gay animus, fear and political dirty tricks--all too often perpetrated by his African American colleagues.
A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said, "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."
How far we have come--today in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin along with Congressman Barney Frank announced the formation of the House of Representatives LGBT Equality Caucus. Among the Members of Congress who were founding members were Congresswoman Yvette Clark (D-NY), Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) all members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The mission of the LGBT Equality Caucus is to achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The Caucus will serve as a resource for Members of Congress, their staffs, and the public on LGBT issues.
Congressional action this session on legislation combating hate crimes and employment discrimination highlighted the need, and the desire people had, for more information on LGBT issues. The LGBT Equality Caucus is one result of those successful efforts.
Though racial divisions continue to plague our neighborhoods and all too often emanates from the pulpits of our churches, synagogues and mosques we are creating a more perfect union seeking to heal the wounds of the past.
Though gay and transgender individuals continue to be target for violence, discrimination and our rights used for political fodder we are building institutions, winning hearts and minds and marching toward Dr. King's vision of a more beloved community.
I sometimes find it difficult to keep hope alive. My vision is oft times blurred by the rising cases of AIDS among Black gay men and the seeming indifference of too many gay institutions. My hope has been tested as police brutalize, incarcerate and kill my brothers on the street. My resolve is temporarily weakened when my community's concern for the injustice of hate crimes is tempered by the race or sexual orientation of the victim.
But there is inspiration in every challenge and a lesson in every struggle. Today is a very good day, a day to remember.