by Shaun Knittel-
SGN Staff Writer
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is the nation's first grassroots organization which advocates LGBT initiatives and legislation. The Task Force's executive director, Rea Carey, is an important leader in the fight for equality for LGBT persons. Carey believes this is a pivotal and exciting time in the Gay movement's history. Citing victories and losses as to why she thinks our community needs to continue to fight for equal rights, the 19-year veteran of LGBT advocacy spoke with SGN about the state of the Gay movement, the Obama administration, and the resilience of the Transgender community.
Shaun Knittel: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently won a victory by allowing Gay and Lesbian families to be counted in the 2010 Census. What was the Task Force's role in this battle?
Rea Carey: We led a significant victory in getting a key policy change in the Census. The national Census, conducted every 10 years, paints a picture of the country. It is an important and powerful tool. In the past, same-sex couples were rendered invisible. Marriage equality is now legal in this country - the Bush Administration, however, had its own policy. Because of DOMA, the US Government would change any same-sex couple that checked "married" to "unmarried." It was an insult. By manually unmarrying us, it would record our kids as the children of a single parent. That was inaccurate, to say the least. We took issue because, under penalty of fine, we are asked to tell the truth. Then, to have the government tell us to lie is simply intolerable. This year, we met with officials and made our community's case, resulting in this summer's announcement by the Obama Administration saying the 2010 Census will count LGBT people. It is very important because the impact of the data will show that we exist, we have families, and we, too, are a part of the picture in this country. When that happens, social change happens.
Knittel: In May, Gay activist Cleve Jones called for a National March on Washington. In response, the National Equality March is set for October 11. Is the Task Force supportive of the event, and will you have a presence there?
Carey: The Task Force has not issued a statement of endorsement or no endorsement. We are talking with event organizers to find out what they are doing. What I do know about the LGBT community is that there are many ways to engage and be active. Some members of the Task Force will come to the National Equality March, others will go to Maine and work on the marriage equality campaign happening there. When it comes to our rights, we just want people to make sure people take action [and] stay engaged. [On Thursday, September 3, the Task Force officially endorsed the National Equality March.]
Knittel: How does the Task Force rate President Obama thus far?
Carey: Well, we have found his administration to be uneven. There are things we've asked for and they've done, however, there are other things we know they can go further on. A year and a half before Obama was elected president, the Task Force headed up a coalition of organizations to identify dozens of policies that can be changed through the executive branch, without Congress. We need to root out the systemic discrimination that has been allowed at the federal level. There is much more Obama could be doing, we know that. However, we have been pleased with the number of openly LGBT people in his administration. His administration is different because, during the Bush years, the LGBT community wasn't even allowed one foot in the door - by and large we were left at the doorstep. Now, we are invited inside. Now, we have a president who will do things that both make us happy and make us angry.
Knittel: Gay marriage is a big issue at the moment. Is marriage equality something we can win state by state, or is this a federal fight?
Carey: We don't see it as either/or. Any progress made when fighting social injustice has required both state and federal action. Here are a few things our community will have to do in order to achieve marriage equality across the country: Win in the states we can, overturn state constitutions where discrimination exists, and overturn DOMA. Right now, the big fight is in Maine. Since the day the legislation was passed for Gay marriage, we've been working to stop those who would deny us equality. We've sent funding and conducted grassroots training in Maine. Some of our organizing staff is in Maine working directly with the campaign. We are sending at least 40 leaders that we worked with and trained in California to work on the "No on 1" campaign. We are giving an initial gift of $25,000 to the campaign, as well.
Knittel: You have a great deal of responsibility to the LGBT community as executive director of the Task Force. What are some of your major successes?
Carey: Before I was director, I served as deputy director, so for many years I had worked to continue and expand on the Task Force's long history of grassroots organizing. Just in the last year, we've established the Academy of Leadership and Action, which is becoming the premier training ground on how to run a campaign and build a volunteer base. I'm also proud of the Task Force's work with faith-based groups and people of color. I'm really focused on keeping the organization on track during these tough economic times. We take very seriously the stewardship and trust the community puts in us.
Knittel: For people who may not be familiar with your organization, what would you like them to know about the Task Force?
Carey: I would like them to know that the Task Force could be a home for them and the change they would like to create. We are an organization in the trenches in many fights across the country, as we have been for almost four decades now.
Knittel: In your opinion, what is the current state of the Gay movement?
Carey: The LGBT movement is an incredibly resilient, strong and energized movement right now. So much progress has been made, but there is still so much more to be done. You realize [that] 10 years ago, less than 1% of the population lived in a state that offered any protections for LGBT persons. Today, that figure is 37%. Who made that happen? Not any one group; it was all of us working together to make sure that we were talking to our friends and families and elected officials, as well as the public, to inspire change. When I look at the current state of the movement, having come out of a challenging year for us all, I see a community that's taken our disappointment and anger and channeled it into moving forward. We have a community that is not ready to sit down, but ready to step up.
Knittel: The Transgender community has become more vocal in their fight for equality. How is the Task Force helping with their struggle?
Carey: We've been involved in work with, by, and for the Trans community for many, many years. It is a part of our values that we cannot leave members of the community behind. That includes our community's Trans and Bisexual members. We've worked with over 32 states to help pass a local or state law for protections on gender identity. We've worked hard to make LGBT organizations fully Transgender inclusive. We are working hard to see the passage of a Trans-inclusive ENDA and other federal policies.
Knittel: Do you have a message for LGBT Seattle?
Carey: Seattle has long been a leader in LGBT organizing, and I thank you and Washington State for that. In the early days, Seattle was one of the hubs where people from across the country came to learn from what local groups in Seattle were doing. The citizens of Washington have come together again and again to fend off attacks. And now, you guys are going to do that again with R-71. Seattle and Washington have been leaders across the country for the LGBT movement, and I want to thank you for that. It is inspiring.
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