LGBTs will make their mark at Dem convention

N.C. will send six LGBT delegates, S.C. will send none

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When state delegations head to Denver, Colo., for the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28, they’ll be bringing with them more representation from the LGBT community than ever before.

According to the National Stonewall Democrats, overall LGBT participation in the quadrennial Democratic convention will increase 27 percent from the 2004 convention.

Stonewall said more than 350 LGBT people will attend the convention and 277 of them will officially represent their state and local parties as elected delegates. In 2004, the group estimated only 282 LGBTs attended the convention. The LGBT presence will represent approximately six percent of total convention attendance.

North Carolina’s Ian Palmquist, executive director of the statewide advocacy group Equality North Carolina, and Betsy Albright, a graduate student at Duke University, will be among the six LGBT delegates representing Tar Heel Democrats in Denver. South Carolina will send no LGBT delegates this year.

“I strongly believe that we are at a turning point in our country and that Obama and McCain represent two distinct visions for our nation and for the role our nation plays in the world,” Albright told Q-Notes.

“I became an Obama supporter after living two years abroad (Budapest, Hungary) where I was working on my dissertation [and] realized how far our image, our image as a nation, our image as citizens, has fallen in the eyes of many other countries. I think Obama has the ability to start to turn this around, first by his desire to listen to others and to build relationships with other nations.”

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Palmquist, who is also a pledged Obama delegate, described this election season as “the most exciting and important election in a generation.”

“I wanted to be a part of it,” he said of his participation as a delegate. “I also wanted to help ensure that the LGBT community is well-represented in the party.”

Both Albright and Palmquist intend to use their time at the convention working to bring awareness to LGBT equality issues.

“I will be a voice for full equality at every opportunity at the convention, and will work with the LGBT caucus to ensure our issues are a part of the convention,” Palmquist, pictured right, said.

Albright added that she’d work “actively to make sure our interests are represented in the platform and to try to influence Obama’s staff on the importance of our issues.”

The 2008 Democratic Party Platform has been hailed by many activists and the National Stonewall Democrats as the most inclusive in history.

“This has been the most inclusive drafting process for a party platform in history,” openly lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) told reporters during an Aug. 11 teleconference.

Baldwin, who was a member of the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, said the new platform “makes very clear that our party rejects discrimination based on a wide range of issues” and that “for the first time in the history of our party, the platform stands for full inclusion in the life of the nation for transgender people.

“This is not just the rhetoric of inclusion,” she continued. “This platfrom goes from rhetoric to policy. It goes far beyond the opposition to the federal marriage amendment in the 2004 platform and repealing DADT. This year’s platform shows that Democrats are committed to enacting hate crimes legislation, ENDA, opposing the Defense of Marriage Act … and repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

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The cornerstone statement of inclusion in the platform reads, “We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.”
Also in the document are explicit statements in opposition to discriminatory voter ID laws that unfairly target transgender citizens and in support of a more comprehensive, national HIV strategy.

Despite these important planks, some activists have decried the absence of the words “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “transgender” from the 2008 platform.

“‘Full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation’ — I don’t even know what that means in terms of acting on legislation or what ‘support’ means in this context,” Durham, N.C.-based blogger Pam Spaulding wrote after her first read of the platform on Aug. 8. “It sounds like a willingness to invite the LGBT family next door over for a barbecue. Injustice will continue to fester if you cannot even use the words ‘LGBT’ in your platform.”

Speakers on the National Stonewall Democrats teleconference said the absence of the terms was intentional, allowing for use of more inclusive words like “sexual orientation” and “gender-identity.”
Diego Sanchez, a transgender activist and another voting member of the drafting committee, told reporters he believed the platform “reflects incredible education and persuasive work that’s been done by organizations and people and done for years.”

Alabama state Rep. Patricia Todd, the state’s only openly gay elected official, applauded the Democratic National Committee, “They get it and they understand our struggle.”

She added, “I was very pleased to see the first draft of the platform and see gender-identity in it. I feel we were listened to and our ideas discussed in detail [by the drafting committee].”

Despite slight concerns with some details of the platform, Palmquist and Albright are excited about the possibilities of this year’s convention and election.

“Our country can’t take four more years of what George Bush has done,” Palmquist said. “We need a real change to ensure America’s place of leadership in the world, to restore our failing economy, to have a Supreme Court that believes in protecting our rights and freedom, and to tackle the big problems of our time, like global warming.”

Albright said she’s excited to see Obama’s acceptance speech and “thrilled at the opportunity to have lunch with Tammy Baldwin…and Barney Frank.”

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