Bay Area Reporter -- Pelosi meets with local LGBT leaders

September 10, 2015
By: David-Elijah Nahmod

Passing the federal Equality Act and ending murders of transgender women of color were two issues that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi heard about during a meeting with local LGBT leaders.

The September 3 meeting, held at the Harvey Milk Center for the Arts, gave the San Francisco Democrat an opportunity to hear from out Bay Area and statewide leaders on a variety of topics.

The main point of discussion at the roundtable was the Equality Act, a proposed update to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If passed, it would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the already existing federal protections based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

The Equality Act replaces the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has languished in Congress for decades.

When asked if she thought the Equality Act might go before the current Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, Pelosi considered the question carefully.

"Public sentiment is everything," she said. "Our enthusiasm will help to convince people."

Pelosi also said that an effective tactic might be to de-emphasize the political and to make the Equality Act "the right thing to do."

The Equality Act was introduced in July by gay Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).

As the meeting opened, Pelosi acknowledged that there has been opposition to including transgender people in federal equality laws and hate crimes legislation.

"You can pass hate crimes laws in a minute if you take out transgenders," she said. Attendees applauded when Pelosi said that she had refused to exclude the trans community. She also addressed why the Equality Act was being put on the table.

"Are people here being discriminated against?" she asked, amid laughter. "With the Equality Act instead of piecemealing it, let's go for all of it."

The comment marked a shift from 2007, when Pelosi was at the center of a debate to exclude gender identity from ENDA. At the time, she and then-Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) came under criticism from many in the community.

Marriage and other issues

Pelosi referenced the June marriage equality victory at the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This is going to happen," she said. "To them it's inconceivable. To us it's inevitable."

Pelosi then asked each of the attendees to introduce themselves and to address the needs of each of their communities.

Theresa Sparks, a trans woman who's executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, thanked Pelosi for all she'd done for the transgender community. She said that more funds were needed in order to provide the trans community with services.

Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said that his organization's current focus would be on the high rates of homelessness among LGBT youth, bullying, and health care for undocumented people.

Rebecca Rolfe, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, got a round of applause when she announced her recent wedding to longtime partner, Susan Mooney. "We still see significant disparities among youth, seniors, HIV-positives and transgenders," Rolfe said.

Ty Lim of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance said that his organization wants to make sure that language and culture aren't additional barriers against people in his community.

Roberta Achtenberg, a former city supervisor and Clinton administration official, currently serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She told Pelosi how proud she was that the commission has, for the first time, addressed LGBT issues regarding employment non-discrimination.

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener brought up housing as a major issue.

"We're trying to make sure that people have access to affordable housing," he said.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center For Lesbian Rights, said that the Equality Act was a priority for her organization.

"We're working toward ending conversion therapy," Kendell added, "and ending the murders of trans women of color."

District 9 Supervisor David Campos told Pelosi, "I want to add comprehensive immigration reform as a top LGBT issue."

Campos also addressed the city's escalating evictions and skyrocketing rents.

"We have a crisis," he said. "People survived the AIDS crisis only to be kicked out because of the housing crisis. We need to spend billions of dollars on housing. We need the federal government to step in and help."

Pelosi listened carefully as each person spoke, occasionally taking notes. She spoke of the need for different communities to work together.

"The LGBT community is affected by all these issues to the nth degree," she said, noting that housing, education, and immigration were among the most pressing issues.

"The vision that we have is a big one," she said. "It's essentially moral and it takes us to a different place. We're at a tipping point for the LGBT community."

She referenced the Pledge of Allegiance. "You take a pledge everyday: One nation under God with liberty and justice for all," Pelosi said, emphasizing the word "all" as she spoke. She also said that it was important for people to vote.

"Only one-third of the people voted in the last election, and that's a shame," she said. "We want everyone to have a voice."

She urged attendees to engage the younger generation and that people should make their thoughts known by writing letters to their elected officials.

"Write to your congress people," Pelosi said. "Nothing is more eloquent to Congress than letters from constituents."

As the meeting drew to a close, Pelosi was asked if she had any thoughts about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, citing religious objections. Davis was released from jail Tuesday.

"I believe she was married four times," Pelosi said. "This is not consistent with a religious objection."