[Note: On May 26, 1999 at One Judiciary Square, former GLAA President Rick Rosendall participated in a panel discussion hosted by the D.C. Affairs Section of the D.C. Bar entitled "Home Rule, Congress, & Sovereignty in the District of Columbia." The moderator was Howard Croft, urbanist and former Professor at UDC. In addition to Rosendall, the panel participants were Professor Jamin Raskin of American Universiy, D.C. "Shadow" Senator Paul Strauss, Wayne Turner of ACT UP DC, David Wilmot of Harmon & Wilmot, Andrea Young of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, and George LaRoche of the National Lawyers Guild. They discussed a variety of abuses by Congress of its jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, and possible actions in response.]
Gays, DC Sovereignty, and Federal Intrusionsby Rick Rosendall
former president, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
Wednesday, May 26, 1999
The District is the parakeet in the mines of congressional and federal violations of democracy. If it's going to hit, it generally hits us first. As my paper for the National Lawyers Guild shows, our city's gay community has been a favorite target for congressional interference in District affairs. The issues for their demagoguery have included sodomy law repeal, domestic partners legislation, adoptions by unmarried couples, anti-gay discrimination by religiously-affiliated educational institutions, and most recently medical marijuana and needle exchange programs. I must note that in these last two areas the Clinton Administration, particularly the President's Drug Czar, Barry McCaffrey, has been no better than the most fanatic congressional Republicans. We even consider the imposition of private school vouchers a gay-related issue, since we think it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to give public funds to private sectarian schools, many of which teach homophobia as part of their religious indoctrination.
In short, we know that the gay community has as great a stake as anyone in defending and advancing the self-determination of the people of our city. So what do we do? The three key modes of attack, as I see it, are electioneering, lobbying, and litigation. As a non-partisan group which was founded in 1971 before the advent of Home Rule, GLAA has been active in all three of these areas.
As advocates, we do more than just draft position papers though I daresay GLAA's position papers and candidate briefings are unmatched by any other local advocacy group. We track the positions and records of local officials and candidates on our issues, and we make the resulting information available to the public on our website. After the election we work with the winners, as we did when we assisted the Mayor's transition team. We work to build constructive relationships with both elected officials and agency heads, corresponding with them and meeting with them and following up and testifying at both oversight and budget hearings. GLAA's record of fairness, expertise, and practical achievement gives us credibility when it is time for us to get tough.
We work in coalitions to advance our issues such as the NAACP Police Task Force, on which I serve, and which played a major role in crafting and passing the new Civilian Complaint Review Board legislation. For several budget cycles we have participated in the DC Appropriations Working Group to develop strategies to defeat the anti-gay riders that our enemies try to attach to the DC Appropriations Bill. That working group, by the way, includes representatives from People for the American Way, the ACLU, PFLAG, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Capital Area Log Cabin, AIDS Action, Whitman-Walker Clinic, AMFAR, ACT UP, and several Congressional staffers. Along with our colleagues in the DC Coalition, we have extended our efforts to the national level with our membership in the Federation of Statewide LGBT Political Organizations. In this capacity we co-sponsored Equality Begins at Home this past March, and our local events were echoed by similar activities in statehouses across the country.
We also support litigation we joined an amicus brief in the lawsuit against the Barr Amendment on medical marijuana, for example.
The bottom line is that while we work for greater autonomy for the District through lobbying, litigation, and election work, we must also work within the current governing framework to defend our community's interests.
Some of our allies do not seem to understand this. I would like to read a quote from this week's City Paper:
>>Democratic D.C. Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss worries about the kind of politicians Catania is fraternizing with, District antagonists like Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) and Rep. Ernest Istook Jr. (R-Okla.). "David's renegade trips to the Hill don't exactly thrill me," he says. "A lot of these Republicans he's chumming up with are not friends of the District."<<
from "Bloody Right," by Laura Lang, Washington City Paper, May 21-27, 1999
Let me see if I have this right: We're all fighting for voting rights for the District, but you turn around and call us "renegades" if we exercise our rights as citizens to talk to members of the national legislature? As it happens, Congresswoman Norton told GLAA last month that she has had a constructive conversation with Ernest Istook, who certainly cannot be called a great friend of either gays or the District. Did that mean that she was "chumming up with him"? Or is it only when a Republican does it that you describe it that way? What do we have here except a blatant partisan double standard?
As it happens, Istook is Chair of the House DC Appropriations Subcommittee. Anyone who is constructively engaged in defending our interests on the Hill had damn well better be trying to build a constructive relationship with him. What do you propose we do only lobby people who already agree with us? Only lobby Democrats? Or is this a simple territorial dispute? Well, excuse me, but like Eleanor, David was elected to a real job, and he's doing it more effectively than any council member in recent memory. His contacts on the Hill helped get the ANC budget restored, and he got us $1.2 million to fund the Civilian Complaint Review Board this year. He and fellow Republican Carol Schwartz have lobbied the Hill on a variety of things, including in defense of children awaiting adoption (since it is the children who suffer from anti-adoption amendments). But it is the day to day work that is most crucial answering questions, providing information, building trust. David's congressional liaison,Carl Schmid, is widely respected by his fellow activists, particularly the members of the DC Appropriations Working Group which he took the lead in organizing. This deserves praise, not blame.
Speaking personally as a Democrat (and not for GLAA, which is strictly non-partisan), I join Paul in hoping for a Democratic majority in the 107th Congress. As an activist, however, I am committed to dealing in the meantime with the only Congress we currently have the 106th which happens to be controlled by Republicans. I am also committed to giving credit as well as criticism wherever it is due which sometimes means praising a Republican or criticizing a Democrat.
As a matter of fact, a lot of blindly partisan hacks in the local Democratic party, trained in a corporate culture of all entitlement and complaining and no responsibility, did a good job of running this city into the ground. Fortunately the citizens of the District finally decided last year that they had had enough. It is a new day in the District, and tough-minded reformers like David Catania and Sharon Ambrose have made it a bipartisan one. We don't agree with them about everything, but unlike the unreformed old guard we address the issues fairly and productively instead of indulging in petty partisanship. Rather than carp at David, those partisans should try learning from him and the other reformers. As we fight for greater autonomy for the District, we cannot afford to write off any of its people, and we cannot afford to demand anything less than excellence from ourselves and our public servants. Thank you.