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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Exclusive: GetEQUAL’s New Chair Discusses 2012 Focus – ‘We Can’t Wait!’

Editor’s note: We are proud and excited that GetEQUAL’s new Chair is Tanya Domi, a tireless LGBT and civil rights activist, Columbia University professor, and the Deputy Editor of The New Civil Rights Movement. She honors us and our community daily.

Today I have the honor to assume the position of chair of the Board of Directors of GetEQUAL, taking over from my colleague Dr. Jillian Weiss, who has served faithfully, with wisdom and skill in this position during the past two years of GetEQUAL’s ascendency to the national stage.
This is a challenging moment for the LGBT civil rights movement, with President Barack Obama — considered to be the most gay-friendly and to have done more for the LGBT community than any other president in U.S. history — seeking re-election. But that bar is quite low. Despite his support, we are far from equal. And for GetEQUAL supporters we simply can’t wait–our lives matter and the consequences of injustice affect us and our families everyday of our lives in America.
Our marriages remain banned and unrecognized under federal law. In the states where we can marry, those marriages do not qualify our foreign national partners for legal immigration. Not withstanding a Glee sequel each week or the daily Ellen DeGeneres talk show on television, we can be fired for being LGBT from our jobs in a majority of states. We have no federal protection from job discrimination. We have tenuous claims to housing discrimination protections based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite the revocation of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law, lesbian, gay and bi-sexual service members can be discriminated against legally, while transgender service members were wholly excluded. Health care benefits for partners can be out of reach or become a financial burden when we are forced to pay taxes for compensation for benefits because we are not married or unable to marry.
GetEQUAL Activists in Los Angeles
Recently, Valerie Jarrett, friend and adviser to President Obama, held a two-hour meeting to tell the LGBT community that the president would not be signing an Executive Order banning discrimination among federal contractors, and instead he would be supporting passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by Congress. (GetQUAL strongly supports a fully-inclusive ENDA.)
Some LGBT commentators called the meeting a two-hour train wreck, but no doubt, I would call it a disasterous beginning to the re-elect Obama for America campaign with the LGBT community.  The New York Times and The Washington Post in staff editorials strongly condemned the White House decision and urged Mr. Obama to sign the Executive Order expeditiously.
National Democratic Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias, who is gay, recently wrote in The Advocate that this is not the time to demand Obama’s signature on the Executive Order for federal contractors.  We can wait, Tobias said, because our demands put the election at risk, including the Supreme Court.  He forgot to include some important facts according to Jonathan Lewis (disclaimer, Lewis is a major donor to GetEQUAL) that the American public already believes that LGBT workers are protected from discrimination in the workplace and this is an issue of fairness. Indeed, according to Lewis, President Obama said in 2008 he would sign the executive order acknowledging it would be difficult to pass ENDA in Congress. President Obama has signed more than 100 other executive orders to date.
GetEQUAL Activist in Columbus, Ohio
GetEQUAL views its role during the campaign period in the run-up to the election as that of accountability of both parties (and any third parties if they are competing). Thus, we take President Obama at his word that he will fulfill his promise to sign an executive order during his first administration that would require contractors to honor LGBT nondiscrimination practices in hiring and firing.  Our activists have been making the rounds of Obama for America campaign offices all across the country, dropping off writing pens and engaging in conversations with campaign staff members, many of whom are not aware of the Obama 2008 promise or knowledgeable about the insurmountable problems LGBT persons face in unprotected workplaces.
GetEQUAL will remain engaged throughout the campaign period through election day as only GetEQUAL can–by illuminating bigorty, discrimination and basic unfairness that are antithetical to American values and principles. All of us in the LGBT community are deserving of what is best about America too.
I hope you’ll sign the GetEQUAL petition urging President Obama to reconsider his decision and to sign the Executive Order to ban LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. You can learn more about the federal contractor executive order by reading Jillian Weiss’s informative blog.
I want to thank Dr. Jillian Weiss for her outstanding leadership during the past two years. She has worked tirelessly with the Robin McGehee, Heather Cronk, and the members of the Board of Directors, moving the organization from a small but dedicated group, to a much larger group of trained activists around the country who have played a major role in both national and local efforts to secure full equality now. While we have many organizations dedicated to LGBT civil rights,  GetEQUAL plays a vital role as the only LGBT organization dedicated to an “outside” strategy that works to put pressure on reluctant politicians and to hold accountable those who stand in the way, through our direct nonviolent action.
GetEQUAL, I’m proud to point out to our readers and audience, is one of the few national organizations — if not the only one — which has had a transgender person, Dr. Jillian Weiss, as a Board chair. GetEQUAL has put the capital “T” in the LGBT acronym, by including trans activists and trans issues in actions around the country. Autumn Sandeen, also a member of GetEQUAL’s Board of Directors, and a Navy veteran, was arrested during the White House DADT protest action by GetEQUAL in November 2010.
We are grateful Jill Weiss will remain active with our Board of Directors where I know she will continue to make a vital contribution. She is one of the country’s leading  authorities on transgender issues in the workplace and a regular contributor at the Bilerico Project, where she reports and opines on LGBT issues. Go there and read her work, you will learn a lot!
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University who teaches about human rights in East Central Europe and the former Yugoslavia. She is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi also worked internationally in a dozen countries for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom. She is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.