Rep. Barney Frank’s unexpected decision to retire from the House of Representatives, coupled with Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s bid to win the Senate seat from Wisconsin, suddenly leaves the door wide open for the next generation of LGBT leaders in Congress.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) are expected to assume a leadership role on LGBT issues as the only other out members in Congress. Polis -- who along with his partner Marlon Reis are new parents to son Caspian Julius – has been a consistent voice for gay rights along with Frank and Baldwin.
Polis sits on the Rules Committee, a powerful House panel that gives him an important voice in Congress. Cicilline, as a freshman member of the House, is part of a coalition that is seeking the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that discriminates against legally married gay and lesbian couples.
The impending loss of Frank and Baldwin will give the LGBT Equality Caucus in Congress less clout at a crucial time when gay organizations around the country are undergoing financial hardship or internal upheaval.
Gay Inc. is not immune, either. The best-known gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, is looking for a new leader after its president, Joe Solmonese, announced that he was leaving. Rumor has it that Solmonese won’t be going too far, perhaps down the street to a position in the Obama administration.
Here in the Golden State, Equality California has been badly shaken by internal strife, controversy and the loss of its executive director and a number of board members, leading many observers to consider the organization on life support.
The San Diego-based Empowering Spirits Foundation has been rocked by scandal this year and the non-profit owes tens of thousands of dollars after its Free to Be festival bombed in September. Attendance was sparse, vendors and performers were not paid, and lawsuits have been filed.
Since the stunning failure of gay-rights supporters in California to prevent the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008 that took away marriage equality, a law that is now tied up in a seemingly unending series of court battles, the LGBT community has become divided over tactics and policy issues. True leadership on any issue is sorely missed.
And all across America, state-based gay groups have splintered over the similar issues, from Illinois to Maryland to Rhode Island.
Not since the AIDS crisis erupted in the 1980s has the LGBT community come together in unity. So today, as we observe World AIDS Day, it is painful to watch the divide grow even larger. But there is always hope. Hope that the LGBT community gets its act together. Hope that a new generation steps up to the plate and hits a grand slam for LGBT equality.