Saturday, September 4, 2010

Roanoke's LGBT Community Leaders Meet with Sen. Mark Warner's Staff

Leaders of Roanoke's LGBT community met Friday morning at the downtown office of Sen. Mark Warner with Beatriz Ibarra, Legislative Counsel to the senator. The meeting was arranged by Roanoke Equality (RE) Founder, Frank House and Senator Warner's Constituent Services Director, Lou Arnatt Kadiri.

Ibarra traveled from Washington to meet with a cross section of Roanoke LGBT Community Leaders to give them the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns about the lack of progress on our issues.

Along with yours truly, there were seven representatives from our community in the conference room at 129 Salem Ave., including Frank and his partner Richard Sifton, Rev. Joe Cobb of MCC of the Blue Ridge, Sean Avedano, of The Roanoke Pride Pageants and The Roanoke Pride Committee and Garland Gravely, of Fashionista Roanoke. Others in the meeting were Suzanne Ashley and Eugene Shanklin, who attended to show their support of LGBT equality.

The topics of discussion ranged from mainstream subjects like stem cell research, to the status of ENDA and DADT repeal. Ms. Ibarra explained that there has been such a legislative log jam on Capitol Hill with health care reform, the troubled economy and the extension of unemployment benefits, that LGBT issues have had to be put on the back burner. One of the pressing issues expected to dominate this legislative session is a debate about whether to extend the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans during a period when unemployment continues to hover in the 9% -10% range.

Ibarra did say, however, that when congress returns from its summer recess, one of the first pieces of legislation they will take up is the Defense Authorization Bill, which is expected contain language repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

RE's Frank House pointed out to Ibarra that Sen. Warner has not sponsored or cosponsored a single piece of legislation that our community is most concerned about. He asked Ibarra to convey to the senator that our community is "impatient about getting somewhere" and that "we are not seeing results".

House also sent a message to Senator Warner, challenging him to sign on as a cosponsor of a senate version of "The Respect For Marriage Act", which is intended to repeal much of the Defense of Marriage Act. The bill was introduced in congress last year by Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Both Rev. Joe Cobb and Sean Avedano raised the issue of ENDA, pointing out that protecting jobs for LGBT workers during the worst recession since The Great Depression, should be a higher priority.  Rev. Cobb told Ibarra, "Economic realities are primary when people are hurting financially."

Avedano also discussed the warming trend toward the LGBT community among some influential Republicans, telling Ibarra that it would be a shame if the Republicans were able to take credit for moving forward on LGBT equality after decades of  foot-dragging by the Democrats.

I had a chance to talk to Ibarra after the meeting. We discussed Ken Melhman's coming out last month and Bill O'Reilly's remarks to Jay Leno in July calling on the president to abolish DADT with the stroke of a pen.

I also mentioned Glenn Beck's recent statements in favor of same-sex marriage and Ann Coulter's scheduled key note speech at GOProud's HOMOCON convention later this month. Ibarra admitted she was unaware of any of this summer's biggest developments. She also said she did not know about the "Don't Ask, Don't Give" campaign, launched last year by LGBT activists as an economic boycott of the Democratic National Committee, encouraging queers instead to give to individual candidates, until we see more leadership and results.

With all due respect, Ms. Ibarra, consider yourself schooled.

From what she told us during the course of our meeting, as legislative counsel, Ibarra meets with Senator Warner on a daily basis. We are all hopeful that she shares with him what she learned here in the valley, specifically that Roanoke's LGBT community is large, diverse, increasingly organized and paying attention. We want Senator Warner and the Democrats to lead decisively on full LGBT Equality and we want him to know that, with the recent overtures from the key Republicans, the LGBT community's loyalty to the Democrats is no longer a sure thing.

Well done, Frank.
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you Steven for reporting on this important meeting, and for the very important work you continue to do in our community.Effective communication and open discussion, although painful at times, moves our community forward. I cannot take credit for this meeting happening, or for the good turnout from our community.I feel our community is slowly becoming more visible and willing to say openly that they have had quite enough oppression. Chronic oppresssion over so many years has degraded us, and hindered us from truly accepting ourselves as worthy and equal. We are ditching that heavy luggage of self oppression,we are actively responding to that orchestrated oppression from some churches, politicians, and others to loudly say we are queer,we are here, and we will attain all of our civil rights, our full equality ! As the saying goes...we don't move, we renovate !


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