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July 13, 2007
V 35 Issue 28

 
 
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Lesbian Notions by Libby Post
The Lesbian in the Gray Flannel Suit
by Libby Post - SGN Contributing Writer Stacey Sobel and I met more than 20 years ago. I was a student leader at what was then known as the State University of New York at Albany (now it's called the University at Albany, to make it sound more like a private school). She was a budding Lesbian wanting to know how to be an activist. Given what she's accomplished for the LGBT community, I guess I gave her some good advice.

As the executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania (EAP), Sobel heads a statewide organization that is one of a kind in the United States. Not only does Equality Advocates educate the public and advocate on LGBT public policy issues, it also provides direct legal services to members of the community - the only statewide LGBT organization to do so.

"We're the home to the first law student clinic in the country dedicated to LGBT issues," Sobel told me in a recent phone interview. "The clinic started in 2000, the year before I got here, but we've really grown." In addition to working with its first partner, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the clinic now has formal relationships with all the Philadelphia area law schools, as well as Yale, New York University, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

But it's the public policy and advocacy part of the job that really makes Sobel's blood pump.

Originally a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, Sobel knew her way around the halls of Congress. During the summer of 1994, however, she was hired as a consultant by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and ended up lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

"It was interesting. Since I had already lobbied, many of the folks on the Hill knew me in a different capacity," she said. "I had to out myself. Some people told me I 'would never work again' if I went to work on Gay issues."

Clearly, that's not the case. Sobel is one of the few - she says there are no more than 50 - LGBT attorneys across the country who actually do LGBT civil rights work as a full-time job.

"I call myself a stealth rebel because I got a lot of my training as a more mainstream lobbyist," she said. "I walk around in a dark gray suit, [with an] attache case and a Blackberry. When I stand in the Capitol, I look and talk like the rest of them, and it gives me the ability to have our case heard."

Sobel explained that the more radical groups in the community make her job easier because they scare the legislators. "When the elected officials see me coming, I get a better reception," she said. "It's great that the community can be represented in so many different ways."

In the past few years, Sobel has been walking and talking her way to some pretty nice victories. She told me that when she first took her current job in April of 2001, the prevailing thought was that hate crimes legislation would be passed in Pennsylvania when hell froze over. After working the halls of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Sobel saw former Governor Mark Schweiker (R) sign the bill into law in 2002.

In July of 2006, Sobel and EAP successfully convinced the Pennsylvania General Assembly to kill the bill that would have put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot. Then later that year, Sobel worked with a large coalition of groups and individuals to do all of us a really big favor - to throw homophobe extraordinaire, the Keystone State's U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R), out of office.

"The greatest gift Santorum gave us was helping people realize how bad he was for Pennsylvania and the nation," she said. "I was thrilled that large segments of our community and allies were energized to go out, campaign, and get involved as never before."

Another victory was the introduction of nondiscrimination bills in each house of the Pennsylvania legislature. Sobel thinks there is a good chance of the bill passing in the state House of Representatives before the end of the 2007-08 session.

Sobel also thinks that same-sex marriage will absolutely be a reality in her lifetime. And that's good, since she and her partner of 13 years, Michelle Sperry, just had a daughter.

"It's been fantastic," she said. "For myself and my partner and our family and friends, it's been an absolutely wonderful experience, but it's also brought home in a different way why I do the work I do."

Sobel explained that in 2002, EAP successfully argued before the state Supreme Court for second-parent adoption. She is thrilled to be going through the process now to adopt her daughter, but it makes her angry that she has to go through criminal and abuse checks.

"I shouldn't have to adopt my own child." And her work never ends.

_Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com. by Libby Post - SGN Contributing Writer

No longer content with the obscene political and monetary profits they realize in the United States, the radical Christian right is now exporting its number one product - homophobia - to Europe.

A few thousand zealots from the United States and other countries converged on Warsaw, Poland's Palace of Culture and Science in mid-May for the World Congress of Families, a gathering that focused on "natural families."

"Natural families"?

Just more spin - another euphemism for degrading LGBT families. These folks only consider assembly-line-produced families using eggs and sperm - introduced to one another through that old heterosexual standby, the missionary position, engaged in by a married, heterosexual couple - to be the real thing when it comes to producing progeny.

How hateful of our kids and our families. But let's face it - hate is all these folks know, even though they couch it all in "Jesus' love."

The usual cast of radical Christian right characters was on hand for this particular love-to-hate fest. James Dobson from Focus on the Family was joined by folks from the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, and the Discovery Institute, which isn't about designing good, intelligent television programs, but instead about programming youth to believe in intelligent design.

The World Congress was organized by a group I hadn't heard of - the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, whose president, Allan Carlson, declared, "The cultural battle has gone international. The American religious right, instead of being isolationist, has in fact gone global."

Oh, joy.

But what about their destination? Why Poland? Why not Rome, to be near their buddy, the pope? Or Nigeria, where Archbishop Peter Akinola is masterminding a homophobic schism within the Anglican Church?

Nope, they chose Poland because of its state-sponsored homophobia. I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill "we won't pass a pro-bill Gay bill if our lives depended on it" homophobia. This is a government that bans Pride celebrations, speaks openly about purging "homosexual propaganda" from the country, refuses to recognize the rights of Lesbians and Gays, and is now considering a bill that would make it illegal for any teacher in any classroom, public or private, to discuss homosexuality, LGBT rights, or safe-sex practices.

The bill would bar LGBT organizations from schools, and Lesbian or Gay teachers who come out would automatically be fired.

This is a government that does nothing to stop skinheads and other nationalistic groups from targeting its LGBT citizens.

This is a government that is tailor-made to be the only elected Western European ally of America's radical Christian right.

So what came out of this love-to-hate fest?

Poland's education minister, Roman Giertych, a leader in the country's right-wing League of Polish Families party - who also happens to be a Deputy Prime Minister - became the politico celebre as he told the group that combating the "propagation of homosexuality" was just "something I have to do." His remarks were echoed by Polish President Lech Kaczynski

Rallying around the homophobic flagpole, World Congress participants cheered at the news that the Polish government would not be cowed by the European Union, which has warned Poland that its antiGay policies might cost the country its voting rights.

They listened to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey bring greetings from W and thank the Howard Center "for all of their hard work in organizing this wonderful opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon the family and its vital role in society."

No question that the current administration stands firmly alongside homophobic repression.

They heard Ben Bull of the Alliance Defense Fund say, "Marriage will be destroyed by making all relationships equal," and Brigham Young law professor Lynn Wardle chime in with, "Legalizing same-sex marriage will drain marriage of its social meaning."

They also came together to embrace the "natural family manifesto." I think it's kind of funny that a gathering in a former Communist country attended by those who hate Communism would support something called a "manifesto."

But yes, there is a manifesto. It encourages mothers to stay home and have many children. It fervently opposes LGBT people and abortion in a single breath.

"It is not enough to stop public recognition of 'Gay marriage,' nor to oppose 'safe-sex education' in the public schools, nor to ban partial-birth abortion, nor to create 'covenant' marriages. Victory for the natural family will come only as we change the terms of the debate."

If changing the terms of debate means the wholesale exporting of hate, they've off to a good start. I just wish folks would stop buying it here in the States.

An endnote of worth: While all this homophobia is defining Poland to the LGBT world, Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz Walz defied the country's president and ultra-right-wing organizations by letting a Pride parade take place in her city on May 19. More than 5,000 marched amid bystanders who waved and were generally supportive.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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