When Scott Brown first ran for election to the US Senate in 2010 he promised not to be “another loud and angry voice.” Rather, Brown vowed to be “an independent voice, a problem solver.”
Now in a close re-election race with presumptive Democratic Party nominee Elizabeth Warren, Brown is trumpeting in radio and TV ads not only that independent voice, but also an independent voting record.
As proof positive, Brown’s campaign points to voting only 54 percent of the time along party lines.
But gay Democrats are calling out Brown for not supporting Massachusetts LGBT residents and issues of concern to them. During a recent telephone conference call, three gay community leaders said Brown is missing in action on gay rights, if not outright anti-gay.
He “claims to be an independent voice, but his anti-equality positions are much more in line with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and the Massachusetts Family Institute,” said Democratic state Representative Liz Malia, of the 11th Suffolk district, which includes a gay enclave of Jamaica Plain.
“Massachusetts would not have led the way on marriage equality if Scott Brown had his way,” she explained. “He voted against marriage at every turn and still supports DOMA” [the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act].
In fact, as a state lawmaker Brown voted repeatedly in the Legislature to place before voters a referendum that would have banned same-sex marriage by amending the state Constitution.
Joining Malia on the call (Thurs., May 10) was Kevin Franck, Massachusetts Democratic Party communications director, and Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council (FEC), an advocacy organization for LGBT parents and families.
The Bay State U.S. Senate race is one of the closest this year and one of the most widely watched. Recent polling data from Real Clear Politics shows Brown slightly ahead of Warren 42.6 to 42.0 percent
It was President Barack Obama’s historic full embrace of same-sex marriage rights earlier this month that prompted the press availability, said Franck.
Besides gay marriage, LGBT community leaders criticized Brown for his silence on bullying.
“Scott Brown calls himself an independent voice,” said Wes Ritchie, outreach director for MassEquality, a statewide advocacy organization. But “he has no voice at all.”
Ritchie was referring to the non-political “It Gets Better” video campaign in which elected officials, celebrities and other public figures across the county have reached out to LGBT youth with a message of hope.
Every member of the Massachusetts delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate spoke out and participated in the campaign, said Ritchie, except Brown who “chooses to have no voice at all.”
“And to put that into perspective, LGBT [young people] have a higher rates of suicide, attempted suicide, become homeless, and have higher rates of being marginalized,” Ritchie explained, citing a youth risk behavior study of the state Department of Public Health.
“When it comes to having a voice on bullying,” Ritchie said, Scott Brown “has no voice. I don’t know where he keeps it.”
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Congress is considering two federal pieces of legislation that seek to make schools safer for gay youth and those perceived to be LGBT persons.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would require school districts receiving federal money to implement and report on anti-bullying programs. Those programs must identify bullying and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, among other enumerated characteristics. Bullying and harassment under SSIA would include cyber bullying such as e-mail or instant messaging.
U.S. Senator John Kerry and four of Massachusetts’ congressmen are SSIA co-sponsors, including U.S. Representatives Michael E. Capuano, James McGovern, Richard E. Neal, and John Oliver — but not Senator Scott Brown, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Mass Equality.
Brown, however, has publicly committed to vote for the measure when it comes to the floor.
The Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) would require elementary and secondary schools not to discriminate against students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in any program or activity that receives federal money — or risk losing those funds. Under the proposed SNDA, “discrimination” includes “bullying” and “harassment,” along with “intimidation and violence.”
Kerry, along with the entire ten-member Massachusetts congressional delegation, is an SNDA co-sponsor, but not Brown, according to the HRC and Mass Equality.
During the conference call, a WBUR reporter asked about President Obama’s evolution on gay marriage.
“Does the president’s statement bring up a distinction that might be a sharper issue of distinction?” she asked. “Has it risen to a higher level, in looking at [Massachusetts Senate] race more closely?”
“Yes,” replied Chrisler. The president’s support for equal marriage rights “raises the conversation to a higher level,” adding, “Elizabeth Warren’s stance is crystal clear and very supportive.”
The reality is, Chrisler continued, “there are a huge number of issues before the Senate and Congress that are of impact to Massachusetts LGBT residents.”
In addition to SSIA and SNDA, said Chrisler, is the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal DOMA and restore the rights of legally married same-sex couples to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law.
Other pieces of LGBT legislation include the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban bias in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or gender expression.
Another bill, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, would prohibit any public child welfare agency receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any potential foster or adoptive family on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
Yet another bill, The Uniting American Families Act would enable U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners, called “permanent partners,” for family-based immigration.
Currently, under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents may sponsor their spouses — and other immediate family members — for immigration purposes.
But same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not considered to be “spouses,” and their partners cannot sponsor them for family-based immigration.
Altogether, Senator Brown “has a track record in the U.S. Senate of being anti-gay,” said Chrisler. “On every major LGBT bill that he has been asked to co-sponsor or sign onto he has not done that,” indicating that he “is not supportive of the things of importance to the LGBT community.”
Chrisler also said that Brown has refused to meet with the Family Equality Council to hear personally about the organization’s and gay parents’ concerns.
During her seven years serving as FEC executive director, Chrisler said she has asked Brown at least three times for a meeting — all to no avail.
“We get a polite ‘no thank you,’ we don’t need the meeting,” she said. Or “an aide says he’s too busy.”
“This points out and ongoing and troubling resistance to his willingness to be open and listen to the constituents he purports to represent and hear what’s important issues to them, Chrisler added.
Ironically, Chrisler has personal experience of Brown’s gay-unfriendly rhetoric. In 2001 during a session of the Massachusetts Legislature, Brown referred to the decision of then state Senator Cheryl Jacques, to have children as “not normal.” He also described her parenting role as “alleged family responsibilities.”
Jacques is the wife of Chrisler. The couple is raising twin boys, with Chrisler expecting another child this summer.
While Brown has since back-peddled and acknowledged a poor word choice, he has not expressed regret to Chrisler.
“There has been no direct apology whatsoever for the comments,” she said.
But in one move widely praised by gay-rights activists, Brown voted to repeal “don’t’ ask, don’t tell,” the nearly two-decade old ban on openly gay military service.
Nonetheless, the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed Warren.
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