Stay involved, stay focused – Clinton administration contributions to gay rights

Richard Socarides

Six years after candidate Bill Clinton spoke those now-famous words about us and went on to become the the president in history to include gay and lesbian Americans in the life of the nation, Washington is in a state of turmoil. But with controversy surrounding the presidency, it’s more important than ever for all of us to stay focused and keep working on the vital issues we care about. Our community cannot afford to stop participating in the political process, especially now that our participation has resulted in substantial progress.

As the Administration’s point person on gay and lesbian issues, I know better than anyone that there have been some disappointments in the last six years. We desperately wanted to believe that this man who embraced us as a community could grant us full and equal rights with the stroke of a pen. But we learned together that homophobia has deeper roots than any pen can unearth.

In the process we have grown to understand what it really takes to change a nation. And change has begun. The dialogue Clinton started in 1992 and which has continued throughout his presidency (notabiy in his White House meetings with gay leaders and his historic speech last year at the Human Rights Campaign dinner) must continue if we are ever to enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

Building on an dialogue, we have made substantial accomplishments in the last six years. President Clinton issued executive orders banning sexual orientation discrimination in the civilian federal workforce and protecting gays from being denied security clearances. This makes the federal government the largest employer in the world (1.85 million civilian employees) with a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation. This past summer the Clinton administration successfully waged a coalition in campaign in Congress to defeat the right wings attempt to overturn these historic rules of basic fairness.

Our president is the first ever in history to appoint an openly gay person to a job. And by appointing people who have experience and reputations in our communities (Virginia Apuzzo, Roberta Achtenberg, Fred Hochberg, Jim Hormel, Dr. Scott Hitt, Bob Hattoy, and Gail Shibley, to name just a few), the president has selected advocates who have the power to fight for us.

President Clinton is the first president to support, sponsor, and work for federal civil rights protection for gay men and lesbians. During his first term, he endorsed the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would protect us from workplace discrimination. Last year, during the historic White House Conference on Hate Crimes, the president announced his sponsorship of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This legislation would for the first time extend the reach of federal criminal law to cover hate crimes motivated by a bias against people because of their perceived sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, both ENDA and the hate-crimes bill are being held captive by the right-wing Republican Congress (along with Jim Hormel’s nomination to be ambassador to Luxembourg). President Clinton and Vice President Gore have recently underscored their commitment to fight vigorously for these bills.

Even as our accomplishments have grown, the attacks and hate-filled voices of intolerance have also multiplied. It is important to contrast Clinton administration policies of inclusion and fairness with the extremism of the Right. This extremism has encouraged the recent unprecedented attacks. It was Senator Lott whose infamous comments compared us to kleptomaniacs. And it was the Republicans in the House who passed bills that would have prohibited same-sex joint adoptions and denied federal housing money to localities with domestic-partnership laws.

We have made remarkable progress — indeed, even history — under this Administration. But we so have a lot of work to do. The recent wave of prejudice and bigotry has only strengthened the president’s resolve to fight injustice. He stands with us. But these efforts require the support Of all gay and lesbian Americans.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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