Monday, June 01, 2015

Disclaimer: Old Blog!

If you've stumbled upon this blog, please know that it is an old blog I used to run back when I was in college. I'm keeping it open mostly for nostalgia's sake but will not be updating it. The opinions expressed below are purely my own, and may be outdated. Consider them the views of a young LGBT activist passionate about making the world a better, fairer place.

For a newer blog of mine, please visit TransportUS. That's a blog focusing on American transportation policy.

Thank you,
Alexander Laska

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Senate Committee Passes DOMA Repeal

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed last week a bill that would repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act," the law that keeps gay couples from receiving the over 1,000 federal benefits that straight couples receive.  This in spite of Republicans' attempts to delay a vote as long as possible.

The vote was entirely along party lines, with every Democrat voting to repeal DOMA, and every Republican voting to keep it.  This just underscores how out-of-touch Republicans are, backing discrimination at a time when public opinion is on the side of justice and equality for same-sex couples.

I am proud that every Democrat on the committee, including my own senator, Richard Blumenthal, voted to repeal this discriminatory law.  While it is highly unlikely that the full Senate will take up the bill, and even less likely (read: absolutely impossible) that the Republican-controlled House will consider the bill, this is a very important victory for the LGBT community.  We showed last week that, yes, gay rights is a cause worth supporting.  Even though the victory is largely symbolic, it remains one worth celebrating.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

United Online: Maximizing the LGBT Community's Collective Power (Part II)

This is Part II in a three-part series that will explore how the LGBT community can maximize its online presence in order to more efficiently organize, engage, and act.  In Part I, I asserted that the LGBT community is not currently functioning at maximum capacity when it comes to social media:

There is no doubt, then, that social media have removed the barriers to collective action and allowed us to exercise our Constitution-given rights more easily. But is the LGBT community harnessing these tools to the greatest extent that it can?

I will submit that it does not. The LGBT community has yet to fully realize the potential of social media, and thus is not yet operating at maximum capacity.

The problem, I wrote, is fragmentation: the LGBT community is so segmented and self-isolated in its current form that we are hindering our own ability to organize online.  This has serious implications for our ability to undertake collective actions:

When we isolate ourselves in our own blogs and side-projects, we are limiting our collective power and our potential for broad and far-reaching collective action. To maximize our social media efficiency, we must eliminate that segmentation.

I will now discuss how we can overcome this barrier and join together as a singular, unified movement, online.  My "prescription" may at first seem startling, naive, or unrealistic, but I fervently believe that it will greatly increase our ability to organize quickly and easily.  It will revolutionize the way we interact, engage, and act together as a movement and make us a true political force to be reckoned with.

If the problem we are currently facing is segmentation, then the only solution is to foster greater unity.  We need to bring the entire LGBT movement together in one place where we can discuss the issues, organize collective actions, and spark one another's creative activism. 

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, the African American community had such a meeting place: the church.  The Black Church was the anchor of their movement, acting as a physical meeting place where many of the most famous acts of non-violent civil disobedience were first crafted (Source).  Having a cultural and geographical center where the African American community could come together, air their grievances, and organize protests allowed the movement to truly flourish. 

The LGBT community does not have this sort of social center.  Yet. 

The LGBT movement really is an example of a "digital movement" - one that is primarily shaped and organized online.  Even though the Stonewall Riots occurred long before the invention of the web, LGBT advocacy as a true social movement was weaned on the internet.  Given this history - as well as the fact of how small the LGBT community is and how geographically dispersed we are - it is only appropriate that we create this sort of central hub online.  One does not yet exist, and that needs to change, for the benefit of our activism.

In the most basic of terms, what I am proposing is an LGBT mega-site where everyone in the LGBT community can come together to engage their fellow advocates, bounce ideas off one another, and organize collective actions.  There is no doubt that such an "online hub" for LGBT activism will ignite this movement and greatly increase our ability to advocate for our rights.

What would such a hub look like?  What would it offer to LGBT advocates, and how would it bring us together in a way that is currently missing from our movement's online activity?  I will now lay out some of the central, defining characteristics of this LGBT mega-site in order to give you a clearer picture as to exactly what I am proposing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Senate Committee Will Repeal DOMA

...that is, if it actually comes up for a vote.

Those who know Congress well know that promises get made and get broken; bills that are supposed to be marked up get pushed away as priorities shift, as elections draw near, and as new situations arise.  But the fact remains that, if the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the "Respect for Marriage Act" - which would repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" and allow married gay couples the same federal rights as straight couples - it will have enough votes to pass.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the committee, has announced that DOMA repeal will be considered by the committee next month.  If this happens, the 18-member committee has enough votes to pass the bill; every single Democrat on the committee is a co-sponsor of the bill:

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.)
Sen, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

It would be historic for the Senate Committee to vote in favor of repealing DOMA, which has kept gay couples from being treated equally under federal law.  Doubtlessly, the Senate as a whole would not be able to pass the bill this Congress - as we would need not 51, but 60 votes to do so and currently only have 29 cosponsors - but this is an incredible and encouraging first step towards federal marriage equality.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

United Online: Maximizing the LGBT Community's Collective Power (Part I)

We are living in an era in which exercising our civic duties and democratic rights is easier than ever before. With social media – including blogs, social networks (Facebook, Twitter), content-sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube), and wikis – we can connect with one another, share information, engage in important discussions, and organize collective action at almost no cost. 

As Clay Shirky writes in Here Comes Everybody, “most of the barriers to group action have collapsed” (pg. 22). The internet has, as Yohai Benkler writes in The Wealth of Networks, made it so much easier for citizens to become active participants in the public sphere – to not just passively receive information from some elite source, but to actively engage that information, discuss it with others, and act on it (pg. 212-213). 

The internet, particularly with regards to social media, has a profoundly democratizing effect because it allows us to fulfill our democratic duties – such as, as Richard Butsch puts it, to become informed and deliberate over the issues (The Citizen Audience, pg. 1, 12-13) – much more easily and cost-effectively than before. It allows us to come together, sometimes from great geographical distances, and deliberate over the issues, organize collective action, and hold our government and one another accountable – with just a few clicks of the mouse.

There is no doubt, then, that social media have removed the barriers to collective action and allowed us to exercise our Constitution-given rights more easily. But is the LGBT community harnessing these tools to the greatest extent that it can?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Does ENDA Stand a Chance in the Senate?

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is an extremely important bill. It would prohibit businesses from discriminating in their hiring practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite overwhelming support among the electorate for a non-discrimination statute, Congress has yet to pass ENDA.

The Human Rights Campaign announced today that Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Va.) will cosponsor ENDA in the Senate.   This means that the Senate HELP Committee now has majority support for ENDA and could pass the bill out of committee.

But what then?  Hagan's announcement brings up the tally to 41 cosponsors in the Senate, including three Republicans (Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)).  But these days, you need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate, as the Republican minority has been all too happy to filibuster any bill it has even a slight problem with. 

In the last Senate, ENDA had 44 cosponsors ( says 45, but it's counting both Ted Kennedy and Paul Kirk, who replaced Kennedy after his death); of them, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) have yet to cosponsor ENDA in the current Congress.  If you live in Louisiana or Wisconsin, click on those links to contact your senator and urge him or her to cosponsor ENDA again.  I have no doubt they will if enough of their constituents ask them to do so.

That would bring us up to 43 cosponsors; we would need 17 more to pass ENDA in the Senate.  Is this possible?  Below is my list of potential "yea" votes:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.)
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Essentially, this list includes the rest of the Democratic Caucus, and two more of the eight Republicans who voted for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal last year.  I did not include Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), because I really can't see him voting for ENDA.  Some of these might seem like a longshot, but keep in mind they don't need to throw their whole weight behind the bill by cosponsoring it - they just need to vote in the affirmative when push comes to shove.

This list comprises 13 senators, which would bring us up to 56 ENDA supporters - four short of cloture.  It's possible that four Republicans would vote for cloture but not for the bill, but I'm not sure I see it given their caucus' behavior so far this Congress; the only Republicans I could imagine doing that are already on this list.

So is ENDA DOA in the Senate this Congress?  It seems like it.  And with both chambers focusing on jobs and the deficit for at least the next few months, I can't imagine ENDA would even come up in conversation until at least next year, and by then we'll already be thinking about the election, and then the bill's prospects for the next Congress.  And it goes without saying that even if the Senate did manage to pass ENDA, the GOP-controlled House would not do so.

But the fact that the bill won't make President Obama's desk this Congress doesn't mean we shouldn't still push for the bill.  It would make a powerful symbolic statement to rack up more and more cosponsors for this very important legislation, just as we've celebrated several DOMA repeal milestones this month.  If you live in one of the states represented by one of the senators listed above, click on their name to contact them and tell them to get onboard as a cosponsors of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. 

ENDA may be out of the question this Congress, but we can still push for equality, and starting the battle now will make it all the easier to win next time around.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The First Republican to Cosponsor DOMA Repeal

The Advocate is reporting that the "Respect for Marriage Act" - which would repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" - has officially picked up its first Republican cosponsor: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

“I voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage [in 2006] so I’m pleased to cosponsor the repeal of DOMA and work with my colleagues on marriage equality,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 18th district, which includes South Beach, most sections of Miami, and the Florida Keys.
Ros-Lehtinen is also the only Republican member of the LGBT Equality Caucus and, according to the Advocate, has cosponsored many equal rights bills.

With Ros-Lehtinen's cosponsorship, DOMA repeal now has 125 cosponsors in the House, breaking another new record.  The same bill has a record 30 Senate cosponsors, as well.

It's very encouraging to see a Republican cosponsor the repeal of a form of institutionalized discrimination that most of the GOP has been all too happy to defend.  I hope that more Republicans will break away from their leadership and understand the importance of standing up for all people.  Equal rights is not a partisan issue, and Ros-Lehtinen's support for LGBT equality is proof of that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fair Housing Legislation Introduced in House and Senate

The Advocate is reporting that legislation has been introduced to the House of Representatives and Senate which would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has introduced federal legislation to expressly prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing.

The bill, known as the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, or HOME Act, would amend the 1968 Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, as well as amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prevent such discrimination in lending (the bill would also bar discrimination based on source of income and marital status). A House version of the bill will be introduced later today by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York.
So far, the bill has seven cosponsors in the Senate, all of whom are Democrats.  According to a press release sent out by Kerry's office, the HOME Act will accomplish five things:

  • Amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination and intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or source of income.
  • Amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in access to credit.
  • Outlaw housing discrimination both before and after a housing unit is acquired.
  • Strengthen anti-discrimination protections for handicapped individuals and LGBT parents with custody of a child.
  • Provide the Attorney General with appropriate pre-litigation investigative power to enforce the law.
I think it's terrific that fair housing legislation has been introduced to both chambers of Congress.  But with various LGBT-related bills (ENDA, UAFA, DOMA, etc.) targeting various forms of discrimination, one wonders if it would be more worthwhile to introduce one gigantic omnibus bill that would immediately make LGBT people equal in all realms.  We've heard noise that Rep. Jared Polis is drafting a bill - with the help of LGBT activists - that would cover all of these areas.  Doubtlessly, the bill will be going nowhere for a while, but I'm starting to think it might be smart to introduce one package we can all rally around, as opposed to splitting all of our issues up into different bills and risking spreading ourselves too thin.

It's certainly something to consider.  Until then, though, it is great to see more equal rights legislation introduced, and I look forward to seeing the bill pick up more and more cosponsors in both chambers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ding-Dong, DADT is Dead

Today marks the official end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the discriminatory law that barred gay men and women from serving openly in the US military.

It's amazing and very surreal to speak of DADT in the past tense - for even once Congress voted for repeal and the President signed it into law, there was still a very lengthy process (to the tune of half a year or so) which finally culminated in today's official death of discrimination in the form of DADT.  But at last, we can say that this bigoted remnant of the Clinton Administration is gone for good.

Today's good news comes as the result of hard work of thousands upon thousands of people who called their congressmen, wrote letters to the editor, risked arrest and, yes, blogged for repeal.  I still remember organizing a Facebook event that mobilized over 1,000 people to call the offices of key Senators and urge them to support repeal.  Many people worked very hard over the course of many months to see DADT gone, and we should be proud of ourselves for our accomplishment on this day.

Today is a day of celebration, for we are that much closer to a world in which LGBT people are truly treated equally.  Gay servicemembers are coming out; those who could not serve openly are marrying their loved ones; lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are saying"good riddance" to DADT; the President released this statement on repeal:

As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.

If you live in Connecticut, you can attend a rally this Saturday hosted by Congressman Jim Himes (CT-04) and the Human Rights Campaign celebrating repeal and discussing the next steps towards ensuring full LGBT equality.

Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a resounding success for the LGBT community; a law that institutionalized discrimination within our federal government is no more.  But make no mistake: we still have a long way to go in procuring equality for LGBT servicemembers.  Transgender servicemembers are still not allowed to serve openly, and there is nothing stopping LGBT servicemembers from being discriminated against in the military.  LGBT military and veterans spouses are also not treated fairly because of the "Defense of Marriage Act."  We have a long way to go yet in ensuring equality for our men and women in uniform, and for ourselves.

GetEQUAL has mobilized its forces for full federal equality in the wake of DADT repeal, emphasizing the need for equality in various other realms.  Check out the Day of Discontent map to see if there are any events in your area.

Today, we celebrate the death of a discriminatory law that has kept patriotic men and women from serving in the armed forces.  Tomorrow, we continue the fight for full equality.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why gay marriage had (next to) nothing to do with NY-9

In the wake of Democrat David Weprin's shocking electoral defeat by Republican Bob Turner in the race to replace embattled former Congressman Anthony Weiner, many on the political right are insisting that it was Weprin's support for gay marriage that sealed his fate.  The high population of Orthodox Jews in the Brooklyn-Queens district, they say, voted against Weprin's support for equal marriage, putting Turner over the top in what should have been an easy victory for the Democrats.

But the facts are not on their side.  In fact, recent polling in New York's ninth district confirms that there were many factors at play, and that gay marriage was only a small part of a variety of issues voters weighed in deciding who to vote for.

Public Policy Polling gathered the opinions of NY-9ers just days before the election, and their data demonstrate that gay marriage was not what ushered in Congressman Bob Turner; rather, it was the district's disillusionment with President Obama, particularly his stance on Israel, that turned voters away from the Democrats this year.

According to PPP, 56% of voters in the district disapprove of President Obama, compared with only 31% who approve of him.  Compare that to Mitt Romney's 33%-33% split, and the fact that voters said they would vote for Romney over Obama 46% to 42%, and it is clear that Obama's decline in popularity had a significant effect on voters' views of the Democrat in this congressional race; the electorate was just not on Democrats' sides.  Obama has even received flak from within his own party for Weprin's loss.

Specifically on Israel, 54% of voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the issue, while only 30% approve.  The salience of this issue was very high, with 69% saying it was very or somewhat important in deciding who to vote for, while only 29% called it not that important.

On the question of gay marriage, the numbers are almost even, with 45% supporting and 41% opposing.  Given the poll's margin of error of 3.8%, that is virtually a statistical tie.  Furthermore, 55% said this issue was very or somewhat important in their decision on who to vote for, while 44% said it was not that important.  Given the fact that public opinion on gay marriage is split, the fact that the issue was relatively salient (though certainly not as much as Israel) does not immediately point to the issue being a boon for Turner.  In other words, given that opinion is virtually even, it's just as possible that Weprin's support for gay marriage led some voters to want to vote for Weprin, just as much as it led some to not want to vote for him.  The numbers do not support gay marriage opponents' assertions that Weprin's defeat was a direct result of his views on gay marriage.

Not only does reliable polling show that the issue of gay marriage did not play the role that organizations like the National Organization for Marriage is saying it did, but it has even been reported that both candidates sought to downplay the issue, since in New York gay marriage is already legal.

Even among those who did disagree with Weprin's views on gay marriage, the real problem was not so much his mere support for gay marriage, but the fact that he used his religion as an Orthodox Jew as a reason to support it, which many Orthodox Jews found offensive.  Again, the issue of marriage is trumped by other matters.

Bottom line: Those who say Weprin lost the election because of his support for gay marriage have no proof of this.  In fact, statistical evidence points to Obama's unpopularity and his handling of Israel being the major factors at play.  Once again, the anti-equality forces are trying to make political hay out of a race that had very little to do with marriage, but the facts clearly say otherwise.