A national gathering of gay Democrats here concluded that activists need to push their party in both directions ... to be stronger in opposing anti-gay measures and louder about promoting other issues the party professes to support.
The Stonewall Democrats, who held their national convention at the University of Pittsburgh June 2-4, vowed to pick up the party's mantle and make its leaders take a stand. Organizers of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political group made unseating Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum the rallying cry, which helped draw nearly 200 members from across the states and Puerto Rico.
"Our job as Stonewall Democrats is to push the Democratic leadership to do more and do it better," says Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a national group promoting marriage rights for gays and lesbians. "The Democratic Party is for gay rights, gay integration and gay marriage," yet it "brings us to the edge but stops short of making the case."
Says Beth Shupp-George, first vice president of the Franklin County Democratic Committee, "I think it's very important to hold our party and elected officials' feet to the fire" and make sure they "don't wimp out on LGBT and other issues."
Although Shupp-George, a Chambersburg gay activist, knows the reality on the ground in a conservative, predominantly Republican part of the state, she says Democrats can still gain a lot of ground ... moral and political ... by sticking with bread-and-butter issues, such as health care, minimum-wage hike and gas prices.
"Let's talk about issues that really matter to people," she says. "The real moral issue is not what happens in my bedroom, but whether you kids have health care and whether you have a job."
On the same weekend that President George W. Bush delivered a radio address urging Congress to pass a federal anti-gay marriage ban, the Stonewall Dems were honing their organizing, fund-raising and lobbying strategies. After sharing her experiences in effective fundraising, Jo Wyrick, interim executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, cautioned local groups against relying on big donors and hence bowing to their whims.
"Who owns you?" asked Wyrick. The answer for the national group, she says, is: "We have no single group of donors that we can't afford to lose. No one owns us."