Carey: Activists to Play "Offense and Defense" on Marriage in 2012

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Friday January 27, 2012

The head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force expressed pragmatic optimism over the state of LGBT activism in her annual speech on the state of the movement at the annual Creating Change conference in Baltimore on Friday.

Ray Carey, executive director of the Task Force, repeatedly referenced the song "Defying Gravity" from the musical "Wicked" to highlight what she described as activists' resilience against anti-LGBT ballot initiatives, homophobia and transphobia. She also stressed the movement has made great strides since the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

"The pace of our progress, and pursuit of justice has accelerated," said Carey.

More specifically, she described 2011 as a momentous year for LGBT Americans.

Same-sex couples began to legally marry in New York in July; while lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Illinois approved measures that allowed gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions. Connecticut; Nevada; Hawaii and Massachusetts added gender identity and expression to their non-discrimination laws, while California and Vermont enacted statutes that allow transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates without sex-reassignment surgery. Oklahoma City, Dallas, Jackson, Miss., and Arkansas are among the cities and states that adopted LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying measures.

"We at the Task Force are honored to have helped in many of these efforts and to have worked with our colleagues in the statewide equality organizations," said Carey.

On the federal level, the repeal of the ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers became official in September. The White House said last February that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. The Department of Veterans Affairs directed its facilities to provide appropriate care to trans patients. And the Obama administration announced in August it would allow federal authorities to take an undocumented immigrant's community and familial ties into account in deportation proceedings.

"As a community, with the Obama administration, we have improved lives," said Carey.

Looking Forward to 2012

Carey said that activists will have to "play both offense and defense" in 2012 on the issue of marriage equality.

Lawmakers in Maryland, Washington and New Jersey are considering bills that would allow same-sex couples to marry. Maine activists earlier this week succeeded in collecting enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot in November that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians. Conversely, North Carolina voters in May will consider a constitutional amendment that would bar marriage for same-sex couples. Minnesotans face a similar ballot initiative in November.

New Hampshire lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a bill earlier this month that would repeal the state's marriage equality law, but House Republicans postponed it at least until February.

"We're going to be called upon to lead a lot this year," said Carey, who stressed that activists must also continue to fight for trans equality. "In states across the country, we must press forward on securing protections for people who experience discrimination because of their gender identity-including Michigan, New York and right here in Maryland. And we will be called to lead."

Carey acknowledged anti-LGBT campaign rhetoric during the current election cycle, but she echoed NAACP President Benjamin Jealous who addressed the conference on Thursday night when she said so-called voter suppression laws could have a devastating impact on LGBT Americans.

"There is a systematic effort in states across the country to take the vote away from people of color, students, the working poor and unemployed, people who've lost their homes, young voters, people with disabilities and the elderly," said Carey, noting dozens of state laws and executive orders that she contends will limit underrepresented groups' access to the polls. "So we are called to lead and to protect access to voting. This is in our self-interest and in the interest of our allies. We are people of color, we are students, we are transgender."

Carey again referenced "Wicked" at the end of her speech, noting that 2013 is the Task Force's 40th anniversary.

"This is our time to defy gravity and to create change," she said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.