Candidates Speak to LGBT Community at Gubernatorial Forum

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L-to-R: Joe Avellone, Don Berwick, Martha Coakley, Evan Falchuk, Steve Grossman, Juliette Kayymen, Scott Lively, and Jeff McCormick.  Photo: Chuck Colbert

L-to-R: Joe Avellone, Don Berwick, Martha Coakley, Evan Falchuk, Steve Grossman, Juliette Kayymen, Scott Lively, and Jeff McCormick.
All Photos: Chuck Colbert

Anti-gay Lively animates discussion

By: Chuck Colbert /TRT Reporter—

For the past seven years LGBT people in Massachusetts have enjoyed support for gay rights from the corner office on Beacon Hill. Recently, an advocate from the state’s leading LGBT rights group took note of Governor Deval Patrick’s unbridled enthusiasm in advancing “our” community’s gains in civil rights and quality of life.

He has been an “incredible LGBT champion,” who “will be very hard to replace,” said MassEquality’s Executive Director Kara Coredini, speaking before an audience of several hundred people, all gathered in late March in the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Lecture Hall for a gubernatorial candidate forum devoted specifically to LGBT issues.

Historically, it was not the first LGBT gubernatorial forum. Still, this forum was the largest both in terms of audience size and number of candidates who participated. Better yet, the forum gave those in attendance and beyond an opportunity to hear directly from six men and two women who wish to succeed Patrick, considered by some to be the most pro-LGBT governor in the nation. Patrick, who is leaving office, has said for some time he would not seek re-election to a third term.

Eight of the ten gubernatorial aspirants participated in the event, co-sponsored by MassEquality and WGBH. Charles D. “Charlie” Baker, Jr., and Mark Fisher, both Republicans, were invited but did not attend, with Baker citing a scheduling conflict. Fisher did not respond to the invitation, according to MassEquality. Eight of the ten gubernatorial aspirants participated in the event, co-sponsored by MassEquality and WGBH. Charles D. “Charlie” Baker, Jr., and Mark Fisher, both Republicans, were invited but did not attend, with Baker citing a scheduling conflict. Fisher did not respond to the invitation, according to MassEquality.

For 90 minutes, the various contenders, including five Democrats and three independents, responded to a series of eight questions posed by forum moderator and veteran journalist Peter Kadzis, who is senior editor for www.wgbhnews.org.

The candidates

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates who participated were Wellesley Selectman Joseph Avellone; state Treasurer Steven Grossman; Attorney General Martha Coakley; former federal Homeland Security official and one-time Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem; and former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Donald Berwick.

Three Independent candidates also participated, including venture capitalist Jeffrey McCormick; Evan Falchuk, United Independent Party founder; and Springfield-based evangelical pastor Scott Lively, perhaps best known for his local and global anti-gay activism in Russia and Uganda.

The moderator also allowed participants to make opening and closing statements and laid out ground rules, which included time limits for candidates’ responses.

In opening remarks, Coakley spoke to her track record in challenging federal anti-gay restrictions on marriage equality and her joy in solemnizing a lesbian wedding.

“As the first and only attorney general to challenge DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], I was proud to do that,” she said. “I was proud to officiate at my best friend’s wedding,” Coakley added, referring to the Legislature’s 2008 repeal of an archaic 1913 law that banned non-resident same-sex couples from marrying if the marriages were not legal in their home state. [pullquote]“As the first and only attorney general to challenge DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], I was proud to do that,” she said. “I was proud to officiate at my best friend’s wedding,” Coakley added, referring to the Legislature’s 2008 repeal of an archaic 1913 law that banned non-resident same-sex couples from marrying if the marriages were not legal in their home state.[/pullquote]

“I will be proud to work as your governor—as I did as attorney general—and with other governors in making sure everybody has equal rights across this country,” she explained.

Eight questions across a wide range of issues

Topics ranged from full transgender rights, needs of LGBT youth and elders, and comprehensive sex education in public schools to increased funding for HIV/AIDS and efforts to combat domestic violence. Moderator Kadzis framed questions in the context of advancing the progressive achievements of Governor Patrick and the liberal legacy of Massachusetts, the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

All but one Independent and the Democrats voiced support for advancing social justice and full LGBT equality. For example, everyone, except Lively, said he or she would back legislation adding public accommodations to the state’s existing 2012 Transgender Equal Rights Act. Grossman even chastised Baker, who does not yet support adding that provision and who in his 2010 bid for governor, derided the then proposed legislation as a “bathroom bill.” [pullquote]Moderator Kadzis framed questions in the context of advancing the progressive achievements of Governor Patrick and the liberal legacy of Massachusetts, the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Topics ranged from full transgender rights, needs of LGBT youth and elders, and comprehensive sex education in public schools to increased funding for HIV/AIDS and efforts to combat domestic violence. [/pullquote]

“Shame on you, Charlie,” said Grossman.

For his part, McCormick voiced, in no uncertain terms, support for adding public accommodations to existing transgender legislation.

“Absolutely I support that. It actually makes my skin crawl to understand how some people can take a segment of our population [and discriminate against them],” he said. “If I’m having a Catholic wedding or if I’m having a bar mitzvah, it doesn’t make sense to me how someone can selectively discriminate in our society at all. To me this is an absolute no-brainer.”

Equally supportive, Kayyem said, “Absolutely I would support an inclusion of transgender. Let me be clear on the transgender issue. We can respect other viewpoints, but we’re on the right side of history here. Anyone who has lived the last 20, 30, 40 years know that we are on the right side of history. There is only one way forward in Massachusetts, let alone the United States, and it’s going to be to include transgender, non-conforming gender, however you want to describe the anti-discrimination statute. We should be ahead of this and we are not.”

When asked about “persistent disparities for LGBTQ youth, especially for LGBTQ youth of color and transgender youth” and “the most urgent needs of this most vulnerable population,” Grossman replied, “I’m very proud of the governor, who has $38 million in the budget for a variety of mental health services, many of which directly affect LGBT youth and homeless youth, and I think that’s a budget that we can build on. Even during tough economic times, we have to recognize that our most vulnerable populations need to be served on mental health and behavioral health; [both] need to be funded adequately.”

Another question was asked about using the “governor’s office as bully pulpit” to “make Massachusetts the best place for LGBTQ people to live.”

Avellone responded, “I’m going to have an LGBT Summit yearly to understand the evolving positions and create an LGBT agenda from the governor’s office that we will use in the Legislature to make sure that we keep advancing the agenda.”

“The Mass LGBTQ Commission for Youth laid a pretty thorough agenda of items that need to be taken care of,” replied Falchuk. “As governor I’ll appoint an assistant secretary and someone who’s a program manager. You need someone in charge of quarterbacking to make that happen, and that will be a big part of my agenda.” [pullquote]“The Mass LGBTQ Commission for Youth laid a pretty thorough agenda of items that need to be taken care of,” replied Falchuk. “As governor I’ll appoint an assistant secretary and someone who’s a program manager. You need someone in charge of quarterbacking to make that happen, and that will be a big part of my agenda.”[/pullquote]

Berwick said, “I will make sure the voice of the LGBT community is represented in my administration, adding, “I am concerned about stresses many members of this community suffer.”

He also voiced support for “families of any structure.”

“Healthy children,” Berwick explained, can be “raised in any family no matter the structure.”

Yet another question was asked about legislative action that would require mandatory, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual education in every school district—not just abstinence-only sex education.

For the most part, everyone voiced support for the comprehensive sex-education bill currently in the Legislature.

Still, Coakley acknowledged the issue is “a tough one,” adding, “I’m not sure I know what the answer is.” Still, she said, schools should teach “good science.”

But in his response, Lively said, “We have a crisis of youth promiscuity,” adding, “We are not going to solve this by doing more of the same.”

“Look back to the way things were during our grandparents generation,” he said, when they “did not have this kind of problem. The difference is they taught family values. We need to get back to doing that.”

On another topic, everyone, except Lively, voiced support for increased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, as well as prohibiting insurance companies from denying healthcare coverage services required by transgender individuals.

The Lively factor

Two years ago, the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CRC) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Springfield, Mass., against Scott Lively, who serves as president of Abiding Truth Ministries. Lively is also co-author of the 1995 book The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which drew criticism from historians for the authors’ assertion that gay people brought about the rise of Nazism in Germany.

CRC’s complaint alleges that Lively’s anti-gay advocacy in Uganda, including his active participation in a conspiracy to strip away basic rights from LGBT persons, constitutes persecution and is a violation of international law. CRC filed suit on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a non-profit umbrella organization for LGBTI advocacy groups in that country. Founded in 1966, CRC, a non-profit legal and educational organization, is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to the organization’s mission statement.

Lively’s comments at the forum on HIV prevention stood in sharp contrast to fellow panelists.

Lively said HIV infection results from “voluntary anal sodomy, which is the primary transmission process of AIDS. If a perfectly preventable form of transmission, there is no paradox that all this money and research has gone into and nothing changes. We are never going to stop AIDS until you stop treating homosexual sodomy as a civil right and start treating it as a form of conduct to avoid.” [pullquote]Lively said HIV infection results from “voluntary anal sodomy, which is the primary transmission process of AIDS. If a perfectly preventable form of transmission, there is no paradox that all this money and research has gone into and nothing changes. We are never going to stop AIDS until you stop treating homosexual sodomy as a civil right and start treating it as a form of conduct to avoid.”[/pullquote]

Lively had other provocative, if not shocking, things to say.

“As Governor, I would ban LGBT propaganda to children,” he said, referring to an anti-gay Russian law that he advocated.

“There remains no objective proof that homosexuality is unchangeable, which means it is an acquired position,” Lively explained. “We must assume that that’s true. If that assumption is true, it is extraordinarily irresponsible to be treating our children as guinea pigs in a massive social experiment.”

As a remedy to openly LGBT identity, Lively advocated REPARATIVE THERAPY.

Perhaps not surprisingly, just as it was hard for LGBT people in the audience to hear Lively’s comments, so it was for panelists. Acknowledging that difficulty, at one point, McCormick, sitting next to Lively, said, “I should win an award after this. Someone owes me a martini.”

While that line brought spirited laughter from the audience, sometimes Lively’s comments evoked nervous laughter, boos, and catcalls.

LGBT reaction to Lively

At least two audience members experienced Lively’s anti-gay stances and language as no laughing matter.

“Scott Lively stunned me,” said Charles Martel, a gay Catholic advocate for same-sex marriage. “His comments, demeaning and erroneous about the LGBT community, were a reminder that such anti-gay hate does exist still in Massachusetts. As hurtful as it was, I was grateful that the other candidates for governor had the opportunity to hear him directly, and to offer their own unanimous support of who we are as citizens of the Commonwealth. His hatred was a reminder that there is always a story behind these beliefs, much like Fred Phelps, and what shapes a person to walk this earth with such anger. It was also a reminder that we must always remain vigilant, never allowing these attacks against the LGBT community to go unanswered.” [pullquote]“Scott Lively stunned me,” said Charles Martel, a gay Catholic advocate for same-sex marriage. “His comments, demeaning and erroneous about the LGBT community, were a reminder that such anti-gay hate does exist still in Massachusetts. As hurtful as it was, I was grateful that the other candidates for governor had the opportunity to hear him directly, and to offer their own unanimous support of who we are as citizens of the Commonwealth. [/pullquote]

Lively also upset Martyna Skowron.

“I have been unable to stop thinking about Scott Lively’s comments,” she said. “Although I feel privileged to be coming out in this time of incredible momentum in the LGBT movement, I was quickly reminded how hateful and hurtful many people, even in Massachusetts still are. It is one thing to disagree with someone on a stance, but his words were so dramatic and so explicitly hurtful, that I have been unable to erase them from my mind. They quickly bring me back to my own painful coming out process and the exact judgments and criticism that my parents feared would stand in my path to success even though I am Georgetown and Harvard educated.”

Lively, said Skowron, “Is the reason I still tremble every time I meet someone and I have to come out, he is the voice of many irrational people who I fear would physically hurt me when only the stars of the night light the streets. He embodies all that I find dreadful still in this world.”

Wayne Besen, founding executive director of the Chicago-based non-profit organization Truth Wins Out (www.truthwinsout.org), attended the forum and offered his perspective.

“For the LGBT community, the Boogey Man exists, and it is Scott Lively,” said Besen. “Some people who have face-to-face encounters with him report that they experience spiritual violence that shakes their foundations. This is not surprising because Lively is pure, unadulterated evil whose primary purpose in life is inciting mobs to psychologically torment or physically harm LGBT people and their families. People can intuitively feel Lively’s maniacal drive to destroy them and it can be difficult to process.”

As Besen explained, “My job is to monitor the world’s most notorious homophobes. I have met or debated many of the most anti-gay activists. Still, Lively stands out among these infamous dregs. He gives me the creeps and raises the hair on the back of my neck. Something about him just seems off and people who encounter him for the first time can be physically repelled to a degree that surprises them.” [pullquote]As Besen explained, “My job is to monitor the world’s most notorious homophobes. I have met or debated many of the most anti-gay activists. Still, Lively stands out among these infamous dregs. [/pullquote]

A partisan and candidates’ supporters weigh in

Democratic strategist Kevin Franck, who also attended and Tweeted from the forum, placed the LGBT forum in political context.

“Scott Lively’s presence at the MassEquality forum was a good reminder that there is a conservative undercurrent running through deep blue Massachusetts,” he said.

“Conservatives are few in number in the Commonwealth, but they make up the lion’s share of the Massachusetts Republican Party activist corps who recently succeeded in amending the official party platform to oppose marriage equality,” Franck explained. “These are the people going backwards when the rest of the country is going forwards, and unfortunately for Charlie Baker, they’re the foot soldiers his campaign needs to take back the corner office. They aren’t enough to win alone, but you need the Scott Lively Wing in your coalition if you are a statewide Republican candidate in Massachusetts, and with the actual Scott Lively on the stage, Charlie Baker would have come off like a wonky Lady Gaga to the Tea Party conservatives he needs in his camp.”

According to Franck, “In 2010, Baker worked so hard to appease the Lively Wing that he eventually broke down to spitting out anti-trans bathroom bill drivel.”

Now, “In terms of LGBT equality, the Democratic field of candidates is an embarrassment of riches,” explained Franck. “Martha Coakley was the first attorney general to file suit against DOMA. Don Berwick pushed for hospital visiting rights for same-sex couples as Medicaid administrator. Steve Grossman went right after Charlie Baker for calling the transgender rights bill a ‘bathroom bill.’ Juliette Kayyem went beyond a discussion of fixing the problems in the LGBT community to remind us that our community is a beacon for Massachusetts.” [pullquote]Now, “In terms of LGBT equality, the Democratic field of candidates is an embarrassment of riches,” explained Franck. … “At the end of the day, you see a Democratic field that is largely consistent in support for the LGBT community and a Republican frontrunner who couldn’t bear to be in the same room with us.” [/pullquote]

Altogether, Franck said, “At the end of the day, you see a Democratic field that is largely consistent in support for the LGBT community and a Republican frontrunner who couldn’t bear to be in the same room with us.”

Already, heading into the state Democratic Party’s convention on June 14 in Springfield, Attorney General Coakley and Treasurer Grossman have pulled together significant support among LGBT people.

ELYSE CHERRY, a Coakley booster, could not have been more pleased with her candidate’s performance at the forum.

“What stood out for me at the gubernatorial forum was the fact that each of Martha Coakley’s answers was backed up by a solid history of work on the issue,” said Cherry. “Bullying? Martha Coakley chaired the Commission on Bullying Prevention that proposed the just passed anti-bullying legislation. DOMA? Martha Coakley’s office challenged the Defense of Marriage Act and won in the First Circuit. Transgender rights? Martha Coakley testified in support of equal access and legal protections and continues to fight for ensuring access to places of public accommodation. The list goes on. Martha Coakley doesn’t just talk. She walks the walk.”

Cherry added, “The LGBT community can take pride in the fact that our long years of organizing have resulted in having many of our Democratic candidates support LGBT issues, but having a candidate who walks the walk in addition to talking the talk is what makes history.”

An ardent Grossman backer was also excited about his candidate’s performance.

“I was blown away at the LGBT forum by Steve [Grossman],” said David Goldman. “All of the candidates are supportive, but Steve not only is supportive of our issues across the board—the whole range of them—but he understood and knew why he was supporting them.”

Goldman pointed out, as an example, Grossman’s knowledge of LGBT aging.

“Steve knew about the specific issues of aging as they relate to our community,” explained Goldman. “Steve did his homework. He doesn’t just support us. He knows why he supports us, and that is a huge gap between him and the other candidates.”

MassEquality’s executive director Coredini was more than pleased with turnout, outcomes and future prospects from the gubernatorial candidates forum on LGBT issues.

“The hundreds in attendance at the forum, and the near universal support for LGBTQ issues expressed by the candidates who participated, was a reflection that decades of work in the Commonwealth to raise the profile of LGBTQ issues and insist on leadership on these issues from elected officials has been successful,” she said. “There is still much education to be done around LGBTQ issues and we hope that our next governor will be committed to learning more about, and acting on, those issues.”

The Democratic and Republican primaries in Massachusetts will be held Tuesday, September 9. For more information on the various candidates, see their respective websites.

Copyright ©2014 Chuck Colbert. All Rights Reserved.

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The MassEquality/WGBH forum is available for viewing at www.massequality.org/content/2014-massequality-education-fund-wgbh-forum-video.

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