By Elizabeth Toledo, NGLTF Executive Director
Last night I listened carefully as George W. Bush gave his first nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress. The absence of a civil rights agenda in his speech met my low expectations for this administration.
Bush focused on his tax cut plan - much of which would benefit the upper one percent of the nation's income bracket. And he discussed his plans to channel tax dollars to religious-based initiatives, ironically on the very same day that news broke in Washington, D.C. about a pamphlet, printed and distributed at taxpayer expense, that told people with HIV/AIDS that "Jesus is our hope!"
Bush's speech was not an official "State of the Union" address - that will come next year. But given its prominence, it may as well have been one. And as far as federal activity is concerned, the state of the GLBT movement is not good. Hate crimes and nondiscrimination legislation are stalled in Congress both because of the intransigence of the conservative House leadership and because of the lack of interest on the part of the Bush administration.
Some of the most devastating discrimination we in the GLBT community face is at the hands of our own government. The federal government treats us as second-class citizens and neither Bush nor his conservative colleagues in Congress propose to do anything about this.
While I listened to Bush's speech, I found myself thinking of two counties that quietly moved forward recently - Merrimac County in New Hamsphire and James City County in Virginia.
With absolutely no fanfare or publicity, each county recently adopted a sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy for county employees. In the case of James City County, this policy was enacted unanimously by a Board of Supervisors that is comprised of four Republicans and one Democrat.
While it might appear at first glance unusual that two counties in New Hampshire and Virginia would take such measures, they are hardly alone. More than 150 towns, cities and counties now have measures that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and in some instances, gender identity. These entities range in size from tiny Sorrento, Maine, with a population of 355, to New York City, with more than seven million people.
And as we assess the state of the states, we see a flurry of state legislative activity - some bad, but more good - that demonstrates just how out of touch Bush and his conservative colleagues in Congress are when they ignore our needs.
As I write this, advances are being made in every part of the country in such areas as hate crimes, civil rights, recognition of GLBT families, domestic partnership benefits, education and safe schools, and health care. Examples of bills that have momentum and stand a very real chance of passing this year are:
All in all, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is tracking 311 bills that could affect the GLBT or HIV/AIDS community in the 48 state legislatures that currently are in session. Of these bills, a slight majority are favorable.
Of course, dark clouds dot the horizon. Possible ballot initiatives that attack our community are taking shape this year in Houston, Dade County, Michigan and Washington. We continue to fight mean-spirited and anti-GLBT legislation that would ban same-sex marriages and, in some cases, same-sex civil unions, and would prevent gay and lesbian people from adopting children. We continue to monitor a determined and entrenched religious right political movement that sees anti-GLBT legislation and ballot initiatives as an organizing and fundraising tool.
But with public opinion and the inevitable march of civil rights history on our side, we will make advances this year and the next and the year after that. And perhaps by the time that Bush seeks re-election three years from now, he will come to understand that he ignores the GLBT community at his own political peril.