WASHINGTON State and local openly gay and lesbian elected officials from throughout the country met with President Clinton at the White House today, marking the first time in history a sitting U.S. president has convened such a gathering, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. The conversation took place in the Cabinet Room adjacent to the Oval Office, and lasted for more than an hour and a half.
"Today's meeting marked a milestone on the long road to full inclusion of gay and lesbian Americans in the civic life of our nation," said Brian K. Bond, executive director of the Victory Fund, which helps elect exemplary openly gay and lesbian candidates for public office and strives to create a more level playing field for their campaigns. "One day, sexual orientation will no longer be a barrier to public service. One day, all office holders will be judged on their merits, the way we all should be. This meeting with the president represents one more sign that we are moving closer to that day."
Among those taking part in the meeting were Long Beach, Calif., City Council Member Dan Baker; Arizona State Rep. Ken Cheuvront; New York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick; Massachusetts State Rep. Liz Malia; Connecticut State Rep. Evelyn Mantilla; Carrboro, N.C., Mayor Mike Nelson; San Francisco Board of Education President Juanita Owens; Nevada State Assemblyman David Parks; Minnesota State Senate President Allan Spear; Missouri State Rep. Tim Van Zandt; and Atlanta City Council member Cathy Woolard.
"The president shared many of our concerns about doing whatever he can to protect Americans from job discrimination and hate crimes based on sexual orientation just as other forms of unfair treatment are already against the law," said state Rep. Malia of Massachusetts. "It was a very substantive and productive meeting, and we are hopeful that the president will take action that will ensure that his administration leaves a legacy of fairness for future generations."
The officials thanked the president for his commitment to securing equal rights for all Americans, and encouraged him to step up his efforts to make job discrimination and hate crimes based on sexual orientation illegal. Currently, federal law and the laws of most states leave Americans without basic protection from these forms of inequitable treatment. The officials also expressed their desire to protect religious liberties in a way that preserves state and local civil rights laws. In addition, they shared their support for sound public health policies and their concerns over the latest crop of divisive anti-gay ballot measures that are coming up at the state and local level.
"As public servants who happen to be gay and lesbian, we appreciate that the president decided to include us among the many different American voices he listens to," said state Rep. Cheuvront of Arizona. "The discussion touched on a wide range of issues of concern to all of our constituents, including our gay and lesbian constituents. It was encouraging that the president wanted to hear from us as state and local officials, not just from Washington insiders."
Eleven of the 12 officials participating in today's landmark conversation with the president were elected with support from Victory Fund members. Currently, only 180 of the country's 500,000 elected officials are openly gay or lesbian.
"Ensuring that gay and lesbian Americans gain an equal place at the table of public policy is what the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund is all about," added Bond. "We are proud that the vast majority of today's participants were Victory Fund winners, and we are deeply appreciative that the president is listening to the concerns of some of our nation's outstanding openly gay and lesbian office holders. Today's White House meeting reflects the finest tradition of our national struggle to create an America where we are all treated fairly and equally under the law."