Advocates are hailing the draft 2016 Democratic Party platform as the most LGBT-inclusive in history for its unprecedented support for LGBT rights.
Although the draft document calls for passage of federal comprehensive LGBT rights legislation, it does not explicitly endorse the Equality Act.
An entire section devoted to LGBT rights is included in the proposed platform, which was unveiled late last week and no fewer than 35 times invokes the name of Donald Trump to denounce him as a bigot who’d be disastrous in the White House. At no time is Hillary Clinton named.
The section on LGBT rights applauds last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, saying it “recognized LGBT people — like every other American — have the right to marry the person they love.” (In 2012, Democrats for the first-time endorsed marriage equality in the platform largely as a result of a campaign spearheaded by the now-closed LGBT group Freedom to Marry.)
But the plank says more is needed after the marriage decision, including passage of federal comprehensive LGBT rights legislation. In the 2012 platform, reference was made only to a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment.
“LGBT kids continue to be bullied at school, a restaurant can refuse to serve a transgender person, and a same-sex couple is at risk of being evicted from their home,” the draft says. “That is unacceptable and must change. Democrats will fight for comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections for all LGBT Americans and push back against state efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals.”
The same plank also calls for combatting LGBT youth homelessness, protecting transgender people from violence and making LGBT human rights part of America’s foreign policy.
LGBT inclusion isn’t limited to a single plank. LGBT rights are mentioned throughout the draft, including in the introduction where they are invoked to take a knock at Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“We believe in protecting civil liberties and guaranteeing civil rights and voting rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights, LGBT rights and rights for people with disabilities,” the platform says. “We believe America is still, as Robert Kennedy said, ‘a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country.’”
JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, called the proposed platform “the most LGBTQ-inclusive platform of any major U.S. party.”
“We will continue to work with the Democratic Party to ensure the most robust platform for LGBTQ Americans,” Winterhof said. “From protecting LGBTQ young people to ending the epidemic of violence against transgender people to passing an explicit and comprehensive federal non-discrimination law to bring about an AIDS-free generation, the platform addresses many of the major challenges facing our community today.”
On military service, the platform references “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the end of the transgender military ban, saying, “Our military is strongest when people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities are honored for their service to our country.” On civil rights, the platform says, “Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
Another section on HIV/AIDS says, “an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp,” and calls for implementing President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, increasing research funding, capping pharmaceutical expenses for people with HIV/AIDS, reforming HIV criminalization laws and expanding access to PrEP for HIV prevention.
But the draft platform doesn’t name the Equality Act introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) as the comprehensive LGBT legislation that should be enacted. Last year, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Washington Blade she “would expect” the 2016 platform to include the Equality Act.
Russell Roybal, deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, said the important thing is comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation is included in the platform.
“Regardless of what it might be named, it is vitally important that the passage of comprehensive LGBTQ equality legislation is a priority for all parties and is explicitly in their platforms,” Roybal said.
Speaking generally about the party platforms, Roybal added, “We’d also like to see the parties include other policies that address issues such as comprehensive immigration reform, strengthening voting rights and gun control.”
Moreover, nowhere in the platform are the words “gay,” “lesbian” and “bisexual” spelled out, despite efforts from LGBT advocates to seek inclusion of those words in years past.
The Democratic National Committee didn’t respond Tuesday to the Blade’s request to comment on why those terms and the Equality Act weren’t enumerated in the draft document.
The Democratic Platform Committee produced the draft document after a series of summer forums in D.C., Phoenix and St. Louis. The full committee is set to meet in Orlando, Fla., this weekend to approve the final draft of the platform. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia during the final week of July, Democrats are expected to ratify the document.
Hayden Mora, founding member of the Trans United Fund, said the Democrats offer a “strong platform,” but it should be considered “a work in progress.”
“We hope to be in conversation with the DNC to strengthen the language further, and hope the DNC will consider enumerating with greater clarity a specific commitment to end federal funding for organizations that continue to discriminate against LGTBQ people, to specify stronger support for trans veterans and to enumerate a more specific commitment in areas of acute crisis for trans people – and trans women of color and non-binary identified trans people – including HIV/AIDS and violence prevention,” Mora said.
In the aftermath of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, leaving 49 dead and 53 wounded, the draft proposed platform also asserts the Democratic Party’s support for gun safety legislation.
Although the platform says Democrats can “respect the rights of responsible gun owners,” it seeks to expand background checks, hold irresponsible gun dealers and manufacturers accountable and “keep weapons of war — such as assault weapons — off our streets.”
Jason Lindsay, executive director of the newly formed Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, said the proposed platform “offers realistic and commonsense solutions” on gun safety.
“It proposes to expand LGBTQ equality and make America a safer place through smart gun policy decisions such as expanding background checks, renewing the assault weapons ban and closing loopholes in existing laws,” Lindsay said. “We agree with Democrats that we can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe.”
Lindsay added the Democratic Party should support expanding mental health funding, federal funding for gun violence research and restrictions on high capacity magazines.
The Republican National Committee didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on when any version of the GOP platform would be made public. Pro-LGBT Republicans are seeking to remove the anti-LGBT language and opposition to same-sex marriage seen in the document in years past.