Q-Notes had the opportunity for a Q&A with Sen. Barack Obama and his LGBT outreach advisor Eric Stern. Our questions and the Senator’s and Stern’s responses are below.
Q-Notes: How has the campaign reached out to LGBT Americans and how does it plan to reach out to LGBT North Carolinians? How do we figure in your overall campaign?
SENATOR OBAMA: Throughout the course of this campaign, I have been bringing a message of LGBT equality, and of the need to fight back against homophobia and the scapegoating of LGBT Americans, to broad audiences around the country. I included this message in the announcement of my candidacy for President, in my speech before the Ebenezer Baptist Church on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, and in addresses to audiences of thousands in states around the country, from Texas to Colorado, Pennsylvania to Arizona.
In addition, my campaign has worked hard to reach out to the LGBT community. We have an aggressive LGBT national and state-based LGBT outreach operation. I recently spoke with The Advocate about my priorities for the LGBT community, and we have sent staff, surrogates and representatives to LGBT events and candidates’ forums around the country. We are using many of these strategies to reach the LGBT voters of North Carolina.
Some are saying that Sen. Clinton’s win in Pennsylvania was boosted by Sen. Obama’s refusal to speak to the local gay press. How important is it to the campaign that Sen. Obama and his staff speak and interact with local gay media and organizations?
ERIC STERN: We ran an aggressive LGBT field operation in Pennsylvania, and we couldn’t be happier with our 30-point victory in Philadelphia. Our campaign is in regular and active contact with LGBT press outlets around the country, including local gay press, and we will continue to be. Obama has conducted two major interviews with The Advocate, written an op-ed that appeared in the newspapers which belong to the National Gay Newspaper Guild and another for the LGBT weekly Outlook, and ours was the first presidential campaign to place LGBT specific advertisements in local LGBT papers.
Many LGBT activists will say that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have our community’s best interest at heart. What do you say to such statements?
SENATOR OBAMA: I have had a clear and long-standing commitment to LGBT equality. I worked for many years as a member of the Illinois Senate to enact a fully inclusive anti-discrimination law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, which protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, housing and places of public accommodation. We succeeded in enacting that law just as I was leaving for the U.S. Senate. I support the complete repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and the complete equalization of rights and benefits for same-sex couples at the federal level. I will work to eradicate the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and enact the Matthew Shepard hate crime law and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
The second thing I will say relates to the priorities of people who advocate for the LGBT community. I have always said that I don’t think that the LGBT community should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. Real change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. As your President, I will fight to make LGBT equality a reality at the federal level. But it is the LGBT community that has to decide what is in their best interest, and to help make it happen by engaging actively with the political process.
Are there any out LGBT citizens in the running for possible presidential appointments should you win the nomination and general election?
SENATOR OBAMA: It is premature to talk about presidential appointments while we are still determining who will be the nominee, but I can certainly say that out LGBT citizens will be included in the appointments to my administration.
Q-Notes originally endorsed Sen. John Edwards. Part of our reasoning was that we felt he understood what it is like to grow up in and around working class people in the South. As a man who has held positions of power and influence for years, how do you plan on really connecting with and representing the needs and concerns of small town, working-class Americans?
SENATOR OBAMA: I have been working for working people my entire life. I started my career as a community organizer — advocating for workers laid off from steel mills, working to get asbestos removed from apartment buildings, and helping to ensure that every eligible person could vote. After law school, I turned down the big money jobs to become a civil rights lawyer. And as a Senator, I have worked both in Illinois and in Washington to make sure that government works for the people and is accountable to the people, bringing tax relief to working families, health care to 150,000 additional Illinois residents and passing tough ethics laws that limited the influence of corporate lobbyist over the legislative process.
If Sen. Obama wins the nomination, would he be willing to ask Sen. Edwards to be his running mate?
ERIC STERN: Obama salutes John and Elizabeth Edwards for dedicating their campaign and their careers to standing up to special interests and fighting for those families whose voices aren’t often heard — their advocacy will have a lasting impact on this campaign and on the next president. We’ve got to win the nomination first before speculating on this front.
If Sen. Obama is unable to capture the nomination, will he return to the Senate and introduce legislation repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act?
ERIC STERN: Going further than his opponents, Obama believes we should repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. He’ll continue to fight for equal rights throughout his life, from whatever position he holds.
At this time LGBT Americans do not have access to marriage or civil unions at the federal level. Basic familial rights — inheritance, hospital visitation, etc. — are out of the grasp of most gay couples, like those here in North Carolina. How will you address the basic human rights of these families?
SENATOR OBAMA: The State of North Carolina has recently taken an important step forward by including equal hospital visitation rights for the loved ones of all North Carolinians, including LGBT people, in its Patients’ Bill of Rights. I commend the North Carolina Medical Care Commission for this action, which demonstrates that we are all better off when we treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with equality and dignity. As for the other rights that same-sex couples still lack, I believe LGBT Americans are entitled to the same rights and benefits as straight couples and I will fight for equality as president.
According to the CDC, men who have sex with men account for nearly 50 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. Despite this, many in the gay community feel that the government continues to turn a blind eye to the crisis. How will you strengthen HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and funding relative to gay men, in particular?
SENATOR OBAMA: Fighting the HIV / AIDS crisis requires a comprehensive approach. Here are some of the most important steps that I will take as President:
(1) I will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. It will include measurable goals, timelines and accountability mechanisms.
(2) Awareness and education are key to fighting this disease. In Illinois, I passed legislation to require public service announcements promoting HIV/AIDS screening. As president, I will continue to increase awareness of the disease. I will work to enact and implement the REAL Act, which will promote age-appropriate education for young people that will include a safe-sex message and science-based health information alongside education about abstinence and responsible behavior.
(3) I will work to secure full funding for the Ryan White Care Act to support state and local health-care and prevention programs, including those specifically targeted to gay men.
(4) I will promote condom distribution — for example with the JUSTICE Act, which will make condoms available to incarcerated men so as to combat the spread of HIV in our prisons.
(5) Under my administration, the health needs of the LGBT community will receive explicit and serious attention.
Here at the Q-Notes office, we’ve been a bit dismayed by Sen. Obama’s refusal to offer a sincere apology for the Columbia, S.C., Donnie McClurkin incident. We’ve felt that McClurkin’s words did a huge amount of damage to the Carolinas’ LGBT community, specifically those LGBT individuals in the African-American community. Would Sen. Obama ever be willing to fully apologize for any hurt McClurkin might have caused to Christian and African-American LGBT Carolinians?
ERIC STERN: When this situation occurred, I watched Obama closely to see how he would respond to the concerns of the community. I was impressed with the way in which he immediately made clear that he strongly disagreed with McClurkin’s views and then used this moment as an opportunity to be the first presidential candidate to announce a comprehensive plan on how he would advance our agenda from the White House. From that moment forward, he has never looked back and has been the only presidential candidate to speak directly to the American people about the need for progress towards LGBT equality. He has done so even when he knows he will not get a round of applause, and when he knows it will be awkward or uncomfortable. This demonstrates the kind of leadership and courage that we need in a President; especially after 8 years of having a President who has used the megaphone of the White House to create an atmosphere of intolerance and bias towards LGBT Americans. Barack Obama has demonstrated his willingness-even when unpopular-to stand up for our community and speak out against homophobia and for progress towards LGBT equality before any audience.
Ed. Note: With the cooperation of his campaign staff, these questions were submitted to Sen. Obama and his advisor Eric Stern via email. The responses we received were expressly credited to the candidate and Stern.