Pride month events keep eye on November

In the 35 years since the Stonewall uprising, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangendered (GLBT) movement has come a long way. As with each June, this year’s pride celebrations mark the anniversary of the historic 1969 event in New York’s Greenwich Village. However, “Stonewall 35” also serves as a celebration of the past year’s victories and a call to action for this November’s elections.

To mark President Bush’s visit to Ohio this week, Human Rights Campaign, a national grassroots organization working for GLBT equality, ran a series of ads in major newspapers. “The president is campaigning on discrimination instead of solving America’s real problems,” said HRC President Cheryl Jacques. “The hard-working people of Ohio deserve a president who focuses on their priorities, like jobs and health care. These ads deliver that message.”

One ad gives the figures, “Jobs lost in Ohio since 2001: 255,000” and “Gay marriages in Ohio: 0,” calling on Bush to “Focus on Americans’ real priorities” instead of pushing the Federal Marriage Amendment.

In Massachusetts, the debate over same-sex marriage has changed significantly. On May 17, the first same-sex marriages were performed in the state. While conservatives continue to launch legal attacks on the right to marriage equality, the victory is still being celebrated there. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that made it legal for same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses (and therefore be legally married) also gives hope for people struggling in other states.

However, many states have responded to the surge in the movement for marriage equality by passing anti-GLBT “defense of marriage” laws and proposed amendments to state constitutions. These are in line with Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

While same-sex marriage continues to be a major issue, and one that will likely bring many voters out in November, many GLBT groups are not focusing solely on it. The fight against hate crimes, and for hate crimes legislation, also continues to be pressing. While the recent Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is a potential step forward in prosecution of hate crimes, there is still a long way to go. Hate crimes against GLBT people are increasing and continue to be underreported. Local laws are inadequate in many cases, and the federal hate crimes bill does not include sexual orientation bias.

Many groups continue to stress the importance of the struggle against discrimination in the workplace and community. Many employers refuse to offer benefits to same-sex partners, and some employers continue to discriminate based on sexual orientation in hiring and firing, even though it is illegal.

Health care issues are also getting much attention. In May, the Food and Drug Administration passed new anti-gay rules stating that men who have had sex with men in the past five years were blocked from being sperm donors. Without any scientific backing for this move, the FDA’s decision was an effort to promote discriminatory myths about gay men under the guise of public health.

Meanwhile, another hot electoral issue, HIV/AIDS funding and research, is at the top of many groups’ agendas. While Bush’s 2005 budget request increased AIDS funding, the increase was small – less than 5 percent – and shows a leveling off of funding. In addition to funding increase, groups such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force are pushing for legislative changes that would help people living with HIV/AIDS and help prevent the spread of the disease.

While this year’s Pride month celebrates the victories since Stonewall – including last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning state sodomy laws and this year’s thousands of same-sex marriages – the emphasis continues to be on struggle. Regardless of which issue is seen as the most pressing, all groups seem to agree that one element of struggle is the most important this year – defeating George Bush on Nov. 2.

The author can be reached at jbarnett@pww.org.