President Clinton heard about a wide range of issues of importance to the Gay community, including a moving account of how Gay teenagers are taunted in public schools, during a 90-minute meeting at the White House Tuesday with 13 leaders of the Gay civil rights movement.
Clinton, Gay leaders confer
Activists ask Clinton to use his office as a ‘bully pulpit’
“We talked about civil rights and the military, but we also talked about children and adoption and the concerns of Gay parents,” said Dale McCormack, the openly Gay treasurer of the state of Maine.
Richard Socarides, a White House special assistant who serves as Clinton’s liaison to the Gay community, said the president invited the Gay leaders to meet with him as part of a White House outreach program to various constituency groups, including Gays, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, and other groups.
The 90-minute meeting, held in the Roosevelt Room, was closed to the press.
McCormack and others who attended the meeting said Clinton reiterated his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a Gay civil rights bill pending in Congress. They said the president also promised to consider a request by the Gay leaders that he build on his support for Gay issues in his first term by speaking out in public forums, including speeches, on a host of issues such as ENDA, anti-Gay hate crimes, and discrimination against Gay youth in the nation’s schools.
“We asked him to use his office as a bully pulpit to send the message about what we believe he believes,” said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. That message, said Jean, is that “Gay and Lesbian Americans are a part of the fabric of our society and that we should be treated equally.”
Clinton responded by saying he would consider possible speaking engagements at upcoming Gay events and asked those attending the meeting to provide his staff with a list of such events, Jean and others attending the meeting said.
They said Clinton also told them he has selected at least five openly Gay people for high-level appointments in his administration that require Senate confirmation.
McCormack said the president appeared moved to the point of holding back tears after listening to a presentation by Verna Eggleston, the acting director of New York City’s Hetrick-Martin Institute, which provides services to Gay youth. Eggleston described how Gay teenagers often must cope with abusive parents, taunts and Gay-bashing from fellow students, and disrespect from teachers. She said anti-Gay prejudice sometimes prompts Gay teens to run away from home, forcing them to fend for themselves on the streets, according to accounts by McCormack and others attending the meeting.
“He was visibly moved,” said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national Gay political group.
Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a Gay litigation group, said he told Clinton he was disappointed that the administration continues to challenge court decisions declaring as unconstitutional the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Gays in the military. Cathcart, Birch, and others said they told Clinton they were disappointed that the president supported the anti-Gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Clinton told the meeting he strongly supports Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s decision to form a special task force to review the implementation of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Those attending the meeting said the president was aware of reports that some military commanders continue to conduct improper investigations aimed at identifying and discharging Gays from the military.
On the issue of Gays in the military in general, Clinton said be believed his “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, while not going as far as he would have liked, was about as much as he could have obtained from Congress and the public.
“He was very knowledgeable on our issues,” said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “The extent to which he’s not acting [on Gay issues] is based on political principles and a cultural landscape that he believes is not quite ready for this change,” Lobel said.
“He got philosophical,” said Jean. “He said the cultural map of the country has to change.”
“And he said it is changing,” added McCormack. “I think he verbalized that he thought we were right in the middle of that change. ... He’s getting as much done as he can, is what I think he was saying.”
Birch of HRC said she urged Clinton to be mindful of his “legacy on Gay issues” after he leaves office. She said she told Clinton that despite problems associated with his position on Gays in the military and his opposition to same-sex marriage, the president will likely come away from office with the legacy of the “Gay civil rights president” if he shepherds a Gay civil rights bill through Congress.
The Gay leaders attending the meeting, in addition to McCormack, Birch, Jean, Eggleston, Cathcart, and Lobel, were Brian Bond, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; Tim Gill, founder of the Gill Foundation and chair of Quark Inc., a computer software company; Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN); Nancy McDonald, national president of the board of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); Gloria Nieto, executive director of the People of Color AIDS Foundation of New Mexico; Mart¡n Ornelas-Quintero, executive director of the National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization; and Jeff Soref, co-chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda of New York.
The Maine GayNet Archive