Urban art by graphic artist Scot Lefavor (www.scotlefavor.com) portraying President Barack Obama is glued to a brick wall on U St. NW, between 16th and 15th Sts. in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: mcanevet, via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.
President Barack Obama and his administration are firmly committed to LGBT equality. That’s what White House Office of Public Liaison Deputy Director Brian Bond tells Q-Notes. On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and a host of other issues, Bond says the president is with us.
“I want to assure the LGBT community that this administration and those working here under the president will not waiver in their support for equal rights under the law for LGBT Americans,” he said just days before his appearance as the Equality North Carolina Conference keynote speaker in Greensboro on Nov. 14.
Bond has been a tireless advocate for LGBT equality. Once the executive directory of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Bond has also worked as a Democratic strategist and senior advisor during Al Gore’s presidential bid in 2000. He’s also served as the director of the Democratic National Committee’s Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council.
After Obama’s historic win in 2008, Bond was appointed deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, where he helps bridge the gap between the Obama administration and the LGBT community.
Q-Notes got the chance to ask Bond some questions via email before his visit to North Carolina.
You’ve had a lengthy career in advocacy and politics, including serving as executive director of the Victory Fund. How does it feel to be working now for the president of the United States and how is working inside the White House different, at all, from working as an advocate on the outside of things?
Good question. First of all, it is an honor to be working for President Obama and working with an incredible group of individuals that are committed to achieving LGBT equality. As far as the difference, there really isn’t any, I think we all, whether working inside the administration or on the outside in advocacy organizations or as individual citizens, have a responsibility to advocate and speak up for LGBT rights.
Equality North Carolina executive director Ian Palmquist has said he and other staff immediately knew they wanted to bring you to North Carolina when they heard you speak this summer. What kind of insight on the national state of LGBT affairs will you bring to Tar Heel State activists when you visit in November?
While I know people are anxious about the speed of progress, I want to assure the LGBT community that this administration and those working here under the president will not waiver in their support for equal rights under the law for LGBT Americans. Significant progress has been made, but we are all very aware there is much to be done. Just this week the administration testified before a Senate committee on behalf of an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill and last month we testified before a House committee. I also want to get across that, sure you can be impatient with progress, but we need the help of every member of Equality North Carolina to get things done. Not just on ENDA or DADT, but also things that affect all of us like health insurance reform and about getting America back to work.
As I’m writing out these questions, the U.S. Senate was poised to move on hate crimes legislation. The House has already passed the bill. But a slew of other legislation, including repeals of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA, ENDA, and Lieberman’s domestic partnership bill still need to be heard. How quickly do you foresee Congress moving on these issues?
I am very proud that President Obama signed hate crimes legislation and the Ryan White Re-authorization Act into law just last week. Hate crimes took over a decade to become law — I honestly think if we all work together that ENDA will be passed much quicker, and that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed sooner than people think. The president has already begun talking to the military and Congress on DADT, but Congress will need to actually repeal it and we are committed to working with both the House and Senate. But there is more going on for our community than just legislation. The departments and agencies are moving to ensure LGBT issues are addressed. Housing and Urban Development is actually undertaking a first ever survey to identify discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation or gender-identity. Health and Human Services is moving to provide resources for LGBT seniors, and last month provided the first ever LGBT aging related grant to a gay and lesbian community center.
Many LGBT people have been waiting decades for these progressive and LGBT-inclusive changes and civil rights advances. Some older LGBT people would like to see all they’ve worked for accomplished sometime soon. As the president has promised full support on these issues, what is the White House doing to work with Congress on these matters?
As I mentioned the administration spoke just this week on the need for passage of ENDA, and the president has made it clear he will end DADT and discussions are underway at both the Pentagon and in Congress. Also the president has endorsed the Baldwin-Lieberman domestic partnership bill. Again, it took over a decade to get hate crimes done, I don’t think it will take near that long to accomplish the repeal of DADT, and passage of ENDA. What it will take is the support of the president, which we have, and a lot of hard work from the community and national and state organizations working to educate the public and talking to their members of Congress.
Recently, 200,000 citizens marched on Washington, D.C., for LGBT equality. Rep. Barney Frank has said the president doesn’t need pressure. The president has welcomed this pressure, but what are some other avenues LGBT activists might try in order to help Barack Obama achieve these progressive policy goals.
Healthy statewide organizations like Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality Coalition are essential to the grassroots effort that will be necessary for the passage of pro-equality legislation. Chairman Frank is right, while the president welcomes pressure and understands it, he is firmly committed.
Many in the LGBT community are asking for a timeline on a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” President Obama, Secretary Gates and Robert Gibbs have all said nothing gets done in Washington without a deadline. When might we see a repeal of the law? Can you provide any insight on the topic?
This is clearly a topic under discussion, a lot of groundwork has been done, but more needs to happen. The president is committed to ending DADT and I think it will happen sooner than people think. I would hope people will take the president at his word and give him the time to do this right. In the mean time people should be educating both elected officials and the public on why DADT does not work. None of this is easy or it would have already been accomplished, but I can assure you this president will get this done.
North Carolina is lucky to be the only state in the Southeast without a constitutional amendment banning marriage recognition for same-sex couples. Even with a repeal of DOMA, these state amendments will still be valid. What else will need to happen to achieve full equality in states like South Carolina?
First of all there are a lot of amazing activists and leaders in South Carolina, people like Linda Ketner and Nekki Shutt, the work they do on the ground on a day-to-day basis, along with thousands of others will change both attitudes and lives. The president signing hate crimes into law is a first step, and passing ENDA will also be essential. As the president has said, day-by-day, law-by-law and mind-by-mind.
Like all American citizens, LGBT people are extremely concerned about healthcare reform. Many LGBT people can’t get coverage under spousal health plans because they can’t get married. Some LGBT people with HIV/AIDS find it hard to pay for their expensive medicines. What is the White House’s hope for meaningful healthcare reform?
That is a really excellent question. The passage of health insurance reform is crucial for the LGBT and HIV/AIDs community. Portability and the elimination of pre-existing conditions will be incredibly important. And, at the 30,000 foot level, lowering costs will help us all, health insurance reform is important for all of us.
The president inspired a great many Americans in the last election, especially young folks. There’s an entire generation of youth ready and willing to rise up to the challenge and make our nation a better place. Many of them have dreams of either working as an elected official or for an elected official. What practical advice do you have for them to make their aspirations a reality?
That is easy, get involved and own this movement. Make a personal commitment to make a difference every day. Be proud of who you are, and stand up for what you believe. There are organizations in our community that focus specifically on helping people get prepared. I would encourage interested individuals to take advantage of those programs.