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Gay Activists Refuse to Bargain Away Rights

Dozens Tell Lawmakers They're Against Any Plan to Pull Back From Fight for Equality

By Evelyn Nieves
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page A02

Dozens of prominent advocates for gay rights sent a letter to every member of Congress yesterday stating that they would reject any plan to bargain for equal rights, and specifically decried a report that the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay political organization, was planning to "moderate" its positions and would possibly support President Bush's plan to create private Social Security accounts.

The letter, titled "Where We Stand," was released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) in response to an article in yesterday's New York Times. The article quoted officials from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as saying that, in light of defeats for gay rights in the Nov. 2 election (including the bans on same-sex marriage passed in 11 states), the organization decided to place less emphasis on same-sex marriage and more on "strengthening personal relationships." One HRC official was paraphrased as saying that the group would consider supporting Bush's efforts to partially privatize Social Security in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the federal retirement program.

"Our tactics are adapting; our goals are not," said Winnie Stachelberg of the gay political organization Human Rights Campaign in responding to criticism. (Ruth Fremson -- AP)

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Social Security

The letter, signed by more than 30 gay rights leaders, states: "The New York Times today reported that some in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community are ready to pull back on our struggle for freedom to make everyone more comfortable politically, or willing to bargain away the rights of others to make a deal for themselves. Specifically, the notion was advanced that we could make gains at the expense of senior citizens by privatizing Social Security. . . .

"We specifically reject any attempts to trade equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a group that includes many elders, for the rights of senior citizens under Social Security or, for that matter, the rights of any other group of Americans.''

But HRC officials said yesterday that the article was incomplete and, therefore, inaccurate. They denied that the HRC is planning to endorse the partial privatization of Social Security or back away from any of the major issues surrounding gay rights, including marriage rights. "Our tactics are adapting; our goals are not," said Winnie Stachelberg, HRC's political director.

The report on the HRC prompted a torrent of criticism from gay leaders. "That article really represented a sharp change in what has always been a united voice in our community -- that we don't negotiate our rights," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the NGLTF.

Stachelberg said that HRC officials, during a board meeting in Las Vegas last weekend, never said they would retreat from their goals or make deals with political officials. As for emphasizing "personal relationships," she said they were talking about the need to include personal stories in their arguments. "For example," she said, "70 percent of the American public believes that the gay community wants marriage for validating our relationships -- they have no idea that we are denied the legal benefits and rights and responsibilities of married couples. That's what we concluded coming out of this weekend. We need to return to the personal and reintroduce ourselves to the American people."

Stachelberg said the HRC believes the debate on Social Security offers an opportunity to point out that gay couples are denied the benefits given to married heterosexual couples. Unmarried same-sex partners, for example, do not receive their partner's Social Security benefits if that partner dies, she said.

Though not endorsing Bush's plan to allow younger workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private accounts, Stachelberg said: "A plan to give gay and lesbian couples the chance to name their beneficiaries might address the inequity in the current system."

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