November 03, 2009

A New LGBT Advocate Is Emerging in the US Senate

From New York's Gay City News:

"For himself, I think, he’s going to take all the time he believes he needs in order to be successful, because it’s all about being successful.”

Those words were part of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s answer to a question about the frustration some LGBT activists and leaders have expressed about the pace of Obama administration action on gay issues. Gillibrand was speaking specifically of the effort to repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy (DADT).

But that perspective applies as well to the senator’s own advocacy on LGBT issues — she is committed, apparently with some good measure of urgency, but she is also pragmatic. That became clear in an interview with Gay City News on October 25, and at a community forum she hosted the same day at Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center.

Earlier this year, Gillibrand proposed incorporating an 18-month moratorium on DADT discharges into the Defense Department’s funding authorization, only to pull back when it became clear that the 60 votes needed to beat back a Republican-led filibuster were not there.

“When I didn’t have 60 votes on my amendment, a lot of the advocates said do not drop” — in this instance, meaning put up for a vote — “your amendment; we don’t want to have a failure on the first vote as a strategy,” the senator explained. “Because we want to build momentum and not lose momentum with a failed vote, and I said fair enough.”

Instead, she said, she successfully prevailed on Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chair of the Armed Services Committee — a committee on which she does not sit — to hold a hearing on DADT in November, the first such review of the policy in the Senate since it was implemented in 1993.

The other defining characteristic of Gillibrand’s advocacy on LGBT issues is that she clearly wants to be in the game. Beyond her recent activity on the military policy, she also expressed a willingness to be the lead sponsor of the DADT repeal as well as of the Senate version of New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s Respect for Marriage Act, a measure to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), introduced in the House in September.

In both cases, however, the senator, first elected to the House in 2006 and only in her current post since January, when she filled the vacancy left by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made clear she would defer to the judgment of both advocates and more senior colleagues.

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