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June 19, 2009

Statement of Mary Bonauto on DNC Fundraiser

There have been recent discussions regarding whether our LGBT community should support the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at an upcoming fundraiser.  For the reasons below, I have decided that I will not be attending that fundraiser next week.

I was invited as a guest, and not as a contributor to the DNC.  I want people to understand that as a 501(c)(3) GLAD does not make donations to political candidates or political parties.  Moreover, GLAD has never tied, and never will tie, our community’s fortunes to any political party.  We have long realized that responsibility for our freedom and equality is primarily in our own hands - and we have to work for it.  That is what GLAD has been doing for 31 years, and I think we have a track record of success in New England to prove it.

At this point, it would be counterproductive for me to attend the dinner. I see and understand the anger of many in the community.  At GLAD, we’re angry, too.  We’re angry because we see and live and feel the discrimination every day.  Many states and our national government enforce existing anti-gay laws or simply fail to see discrimination against LGBT people as both personally devastating and a stain on our nation’s commitment to equal justice under law.  Every day we hear from people who suffer unconscionable treatment, and we do our best to defend and advocate for them on a whole range of issues - marriage, jobs, transgender rights, safe schools, HIV and AIDS, and bias-related violence. 

Our way, and my way, of dealing with that anger is to focus on the work.  And we are working very hard - fighting DOMA Section 3 with our lawsuit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, in which we represent widowers, retirees, parents and spouses who are hurt in very concrete ways by DOMA.  We think our lawsuit is a smart, strategic and targeted challenge that reflects insights gained both from years of experience with how DOMA harms married couples and how to use lawsuits to dismantle discrimination and build new edifices of equality.

So, as you can imagine, we had a very particular interest in reading how the Obama Department of Justice would tackle a parallel 9th Circuit DOMA challenge in California, even though it does not deal with concrete harms imposed by DOMA.  All we knew in advance is that it would be different from the Bush administration’s response, and it was.  At the same time, some things in this new brief were startling; while others were silly, wrong or offensive or all of the above.  But litigation is never a pretty business; and we have been preparing at GLAD to take on and defeat any and all arguments made in support of DOMA.  We are not daunted by anything the Obama Justice Department had to say. 

In my view, it is good that the community has let the administration know that we expect a lot from them and that we want leadership on LGBT equality and not arguments that reflect backward and unenlightened thinking.  At the same time, it is unrealistic to think - at least in the context of litigating about the constitutionality of a federal statute that has already been upheld by several courts - that any administration is going to simply be able to roll over and surrender.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There are certain rules in this particular process, and GLAD is prepared to engage the Administration in the courts according to those rules.  And we are convinced also that we can win.

I also know that change requires that we engage all branches of government.  The President is important, and we also need to engage our legislatures, our communities, and the hearts and minds of every single citizen. 

That is why GLAD and I are committed to create change through every means possible.  President Obama cannot sign a bill protecting individuals from horrific acts of hate violence if it does not reach his desk.  Congress will not pass ENDA unless overwhelming numbers of people call and write their legislators in support.  And the broader American public will not raise their voices and stand with us, as we definitely need them to do, unless we continue convincing them that it is the right thing to do, and now! 

That is the way change has come in every single justice movement in our history, and that is the way that we can accomplish full equality in our lifetimes. 

In the end, I still have great hope for the next three and a half years.  I hope that ENDA, the Matthew Shephard Act, DADT repeal and the UAFA will all pass Congress and be signed into law by President Obama.  I hope that the Obama Administration directly engages these issues, and also continues working around existing discriminatory federal laws to make incremental yet concrete improvements to the lives of LGBT individuals where possible, such as through its executive order this week providing modest spousal benefits to federal employees and protecting transgender federal employees from discrimination. 

I also have broader hopes for our community as LGBT Americans.  Economic revitalization and national security matter to all of us, too.  Universal health care reform is vital to the well-being of so many members of our community, and I hope that we will see it happen soon, without any exclusions regarding transgender health care.  These are all concerns that our community shares with every other citizen in this country. 

But we can only accomplish these goals if we fight hard and fight smart.  If we convince Americans that DOMA does hurt our families.  If we make the case to our legislators that DADT hurts our national security.  And if we put faces and stories on transgender lives. 

In the end, LGBT equality depends on us doing the hard work of convincing others that equal justice under law is right – not just for some, but for all Americans.