Timing is everything, and President Obama's re-election campaign is counting on LGBT Pride Month this June to energize LGBT voters. On Wednesday, May 23, the Chicago-based national campaign announced the new effort headed by Obama For America (OFA) LGBT National Vote Director Jamie Citron and National Campaign Co-Chair Joe Solmonese. They are particularly focused on creating a block-by-block grassroots outreach effort in the difficult swing states of Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada and Michigan.
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that the presidential election this November will be very close and some LGBT politicos fear that LGBT voters may not realize how high the stakes really are.
Yesterday in Los Angeles, Eric Bauman, the openly gay Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party and Chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, gathered a roomful of mostly young LGBT leaders on Harvey Milk Day to discuss what LGBT Angelinos can do and why Obama's re-election is so critical to the LGBT community. Seated next to his husband of almost 30 years, Michael Andraychak, Bauman underscored Obama's accomplishments and how many of those could be taken away if Republican Mitt Romney is elected.
"President Obama is the first President to fully embrace all rights for LGBT Americans, from opposing discrimination in employment to supporting marriage equality," Bauman said. "In our community, talk about promises kept by the President: 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is no more; for the first time, federal civil rights law recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected class with the Matthew Shepard and James Bird Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; for the first time in history, a President of the United States supports marriage equality. LGBT Americans has seen more progress under President Obama than any other time in U.S. history. And we stand with President Barack Obama in 2012."
Andraychak, CEO of Consultants In Nursing Services, emphasized the importance of Obama's support for same sex marriage rights. "The naysayers want to diminish that marriage certificate, but it's really important to us to affirm our relationship that way," he said.
Romney - who secretly gave $10,000 to pass the antigay Prop 8 in California - has been endorsed by the National Organization for Marriage. In August 2011, Romney signed NOM's pledge to push for a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage rights for same sex couples.
A new ABC/Washington Post poll released Wednesday indicates that the number of Americans who strongly support same-sex couples' freedom to marry now far exceeds the number of those who strongly oppose. Freedom to Marry notes that of the 53 percent of Americans who say the freedom to marry should be legal, 39 percent voiced that they were "strongly" in support. In contrast, only 32 percent voiced "strong" opposition. Additionally, after the announces of support for marriage equality by Obama and the NAACP, 59 percent of African-Americans now support the freedom to marry, with 65 percent applauding President Obama's stance.
Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry, released the following statement:
"Today's poll results confirm that, not only does there continue to be solid majority support for the freedom to marry nationwide, but that - politicians, take heed! - supporters of the freedom to marry now feel more strongly than opponents about their stand. Not long ago, our opponents bragged that highlighting marriage in a campaign would win them votes. But these results show, more clearly than ever before, that the wedge has lost its edge and that the momentum of open hearts and changing minds continues to favor those who favor the freedom to marry and getting America on the right side of history.
"It's particularly gratifying to see the growing support among African-Americans, who, like the President and the NAACP, understand that the Golden Rule and our nation's civil rights commitment of liberty and justice for all really do apply to 'all.' The toxic tactics of anti-gay forces to, in their own words, 'drive a wedge between blacks and gays,' has backfired, and support for the freedom to marry now has a majority among those who know all too well what discrimination, including discrimination in marriage, looks and feels like."
BUT - it is important to note that while the trend is significant, when considered in the political context of Red (Republican dominated) and Blue (Democratic dominated) states, it is really unclear if or how Obama's support for marriage equality might impact voters.
What is of major concern is the economy, with a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicating that economic pessimism will dominate the race. From MSNBC's First Read:
Our new NBC/WSJ poll provides a pretty clear understanding of WHY the two campaigns are pushing the messages we're seeing on the campaign trail and in their TV ads. For the Romney camp, it wants to channel the public's economic anxiety and use that as a political weapon against President Obama. And our poll shows that economic pessimism -- after the April jobs report, new worries out of Europe, and stock losses -- is back. Only 33% of respondents believe the economy will get better in the next year, down five points from April and seven points from March. In addition, approval of Obama's economic handling stands at 43%, down two points from last month, his worst showing on this question since December. And just a third of respondents (33%) think the nation is headed in the right direction, which is consistent with the numbers from our previous NBC/WSJ polls this year. So this begs the question...
Are these re-electable numbers for Obama? The answer to that question is yes. Just look at our May 2004 NBC/WSJ poll. Back then, George W. Bush's economic handling was 41% (Obama's is 43%); 33% said the nation is headed in the right direction (identical to now); Bush's overall approval rating was 47% (Obama's in our new poll is 48%); and Bush was leading John Kerry in the presidential ballot by three points. 48%-45% (Obama is leading Romney in our poll by four, 47%-43%). So despite these numbers, Obama can win re-election, but it's no cakewalk. "Obama's chances for re-election ... are no better than 50-50," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D). "It tells you this is a dead-even race."
Dead-even. That's a scary prospect for longtime HIV/AIDS activist Al Ballesteros, President and CEO of the JWCH Institute, who raised the difference between an Obama and Romney administration when it comes to HIV/AIDS. "For the first time, we have a strategy from the White House that gets us ahead of HIV/AIDS and LGBT health," he said. "A Romney presidency would be a situation where you would have an individual who panders to those who want Planned Parenthood closed."
Latino Equality Alliance Co-Chair Ari Gutierrez noted that while it appears much has been accomplished in Obama's first term, much remains to be done. She told me:
"The Latino Equality Alliance was created on Nov. 5, 2008, on the night that Proposition 8 passed and President Obama was elected. Our work has focused on investigating why our Latino community voted to take away marriage rights from same sex couples and what we could do to build family and community acceptance. What we've found is that time and time again our people of color communities are disproportionately affected by anti-LGBT policy and inaccessibility to support services for LGBT youth and families. For example, in East Los Angeles we found that for Jovenes, Inc., a homeless youth outreach organization based in Boyle Heights, over 50% identify as LGBT. Here we worry about bullying at schools but our youth are experiencing violence at home! Clearly, more needs to be done to make things better now for our young people and their families.
There is hope -- Our work is making a difference! The first PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays) in South East Los Angeles, which will launch monthly meetings on June 12, 2012, with a bilingual format and local family leaders! However, we still have much to do to improve the quality of life for Latina/o LGBT people and their families. The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the law preventing Hate Crimes, the housing and health policies and laws implemented under President Obama and now his support for marriage equality and even his explanation about how he had conversations with his family and others close to him about the issue and how those conversations helped him understand the struggle of LGBT people will go a long way in helping us gain the support of our own family and community. But from the perspective of the Latina/o LGBT community, we really need an Administration that can finish the job and help connect services and opportunities to the communities that need them."
"This election is not a shoo-in for President Obama. Look what happened in North Carolina [where a constitutional amendment was recently passed banning legal recognition of all relationships except heterosexual marriage]," said Upper San Gabriel Valley Water District President Bryan Urias. "We must show our gratitude [for Obama] and go out and fight strong than in 2008. If Mitt Romney is elected, our advancement ends when he takes office."
"This will not be an easy election," Bauman said, but it will be tough in California in a different way. Yes, the state will vote for Obama - but the state is also considered a "donor state" at a time when California is facing a $16 billion deficit. So, he said, it is critical to add Democratic seats to Congress, get a two/third majority in the state legislature, and pass Gov. Brown's tax initiative. Additionally, he said LGBT Democrats must help re-elect Obama by going into the swing states of Nevada, Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania where the right wing has done a "good job" of demeaning the president - where one can see bumper stickers that say "Don't Re-Nig in 2012."
As for those who might be upset with Obama for not signing the executive order banning discrimination in federal contracts, Bauman said he understood why the administration would rather place their efforts in passing the inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act rather than an executive order that could prove "short term" if Obama is not re-elected. "It would be the first thing out the door on the first day of President Romney's administration," Bauman said. "At a certain point, people need to get over themselves." He then listed a number of Obama's LGBT accomplishments.
Henry Lo, Garvey School Board Member and the first openly gay Asian elected official, said he was happy Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act since it brought much needed federal attention to the issue of school bullying:
"I'm one of the first openly gay school board members in the San Gabriel Valley. We were one of the first school districts to expand domestic partnership benefits to employees and extended our anti-bullying policies to include gays and lesbians. Now, we have a president who has solidly stood as a supporter of the gay and lesbian community. It's important that we re-elect President Obama. Barack Obama is truly the President for all Americans."
Tommy Tseng, a first generation immigrant and program director of API Equality-Los Angeles, said:
"We must instill a culture that embraces LGBT people. When everyone engages in acceptance, then we will have acceptance. As you know, it's no longer illegal to be gay in America, but we still do not see same-sex couple walking down the street holding hands. We need to go beyond equal rights to have equal lives; and without President Obama in the White House, we will not only lose our rights, we will never have equal lives."
Bauman said the California and LA County Democratic Party will be working closely with OFA to re-elect President Obama:
"For LGBT Americans, we must support the President not only because of his stance on our issues, but because of his stance on jobs, the economy, and health care, and all the other issues that our nation faces. This is a President who truly stands up for all Americans, and we must stand with him."
(Cross-posted at LGBT POV)