The November election was an historic tipping point with the hard-fought re-election of the first President of the United States who supports full marriage rights for same sex couples, finally stopping antigay marriage activists in four states, and electing the first out gay person - Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin - to the US Senate. California also elected the first openly gay person of color to Congress - Mark Takano from Riverside.
Baldwin, Takano and openly gay US Ambassador David Huebner are among the featured speakers and attendees at the Victory Fund's LGBT Leaders 2012 Conference, which this year is being held Nov. 28-Dec. 2 in Long Beach, concurrent with their annual Candidate & Campaign Training.
This year's conference is critically important since antigay Republicans still control the House and are expected to block major LGBT legislation. Therefore, there is a great need to develop a deep bench of "pro-equality" candidates for elected and public office - as well as activists who can work on all aspects of political campaigns - to continue forward progress at the state and local levels.
The training and pre-conference sessions start today, Wednesday. The workshops start on Friday, Nov. 30, with Baldwin delivering the plenary address late in the afternoon. Hubner keynotes the lunch plenary "Global LGBT Equality: From Stigma to Strength" on Saturday with Huebner's friend, out foreign policy expert Steve Clemons, Editor-At-Large for The Atlantic, serving as moderator. Saturday's closing plenary is a spotlight on the 2013 Congressional LGBT Caucus, which now has six members. (See the full program here. You can register here - but please note, if you're from Southern California, you can attend a single day of the conference for a discounted price of $125, which includes meals.)
With panelists from Jamaica, Kenya, Colombia, and Ireland, it is unclear if Hubner and Clemons will address the situation in Benghazi, where four Americans, including Huebner's friend Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.
Nor is it clear whether Huebner - a former GLAAD Board member and longtime Los Angeles resident with his spouse, Dr. Duane McWaine - will discuss the political heat swirling around UN Ambassador Susan Rice, considered a frontrunner for the position of Secretary of State when Hillary Clinton leaves. But it is more than likely that the panel will discuss the Ugandan "Kill the Gays" bill now being discussed by the Ugandan Parliament.
On the domestic front, there are several workshops dealing with election-lessons-learned and what it all means, as well as topics such as LGBT homelessness, health, welcoming schools, and advocacy through technology. One Saturday workshop - "34 to Go: Tools to Pass Statewide Non-Discrimination Laws" - looks at ways to increase the number of states that have non-discrimination laws that include both sexual orientation and gender identity. In particular, the workshop will look at the new HRC Municipal Equality Index to learn how to build momentum at the local and state level. Christy Mallory, Reid Rasmussen Fellow of Law & Policy at The Williams Institute, is one of the featured speakers.
To be sure, another topic that will surely be discussed during the conference is what advances LGBT people can expect next year. According to The Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar Gary Gates, who analyzed exit polls and data from the Gallup Daily Tracking Survey, 5% of the electorate self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 76% of them voted for Barack Obama.
Gates surmised that without the LGBT vote, Obama's Electoral College winning margin of 332 (to 206 for Republican Mitt Romney) "would have been substantially reduced" to 285 to Romney's 253. And in the critical swing state of Ohio, Gates says that "support from just 35% of LGBT voters would have resulted in a Romney victory."
Finally, Gates (whose work was cited by the famous Nate Silver in his New York Times 538 blog) noted that, "while majority support among LGBT voters would not have gotten Gov. Romney over the threshold for an Electoral College majority, it would have given him a popular vote majority and would have brought him to 266 Electoral College votes, just four short of victory."
So - what can LGBT voters expect for all their hard work and support? How about an openly gay cabinet position in the 2013 Obama administration? Isn't it time that all smart, eligible people be considered - regardless of - or, indeed, because of - their sexual orientation or gender expression? When will LGBT people get tired of accepting the sentiment that someone else will "take care" of LGBT issues, as if none among us in the LGBT community is articulate enough to advocate for our own equality at the highest level of government.
Additionally - another hot topic sure to surface at the Leadership Conference is the fate of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Scott Wooledge has an excellent analysis in the Daily Kos of what might happen to ENDA, the freedom to work without discrimination and the effort to make progress on LGBT federal rights.
But outgoing Rep. Barney Frank bluntly told the Washington Blade that: "[W]ith the Republicans controlling the House there's zero chance of anything good happening...They're negative on everything. They voted 98 percent against us on everything that came up."
Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, who is asked with mapping strategy for LGBT legislation in the next session, told the Blade:
"If you look at the makeup of the 113th Congress, they are going in with about 225 members who are solidly anti-LGBT," she said, noting that most in this group are Republicans but some Democrats. About 184 House members, most Democrats, are supporters of LGBT equality and are expected to vote for LGBT bills, Herwitt said. The remaining 26 are "in the middle," with HRC and congressional allies uncertain how they will vote.
The Victory Fund's Leadership Conference looks to be a political cornucopia for the thinking LGBT activist. Hopefully, it will also prove to be an incubator for candidates and activists intent on continuing the progressive movement for equality into the 2014 elections. Imagine an LGBT-supportive House and a filibuster-proof Senate! LGBT voters might actually attain the full measure of American citizenship.