Dec. 14, 2004 – A comment to the press about potential support for the privatization of social security and compromise on marriage rights from a prominent gay and lesbian rights group provoked strong condemnation from other rights organizations and a partial clarification by the groupâ€™s political director.
Speaking to the New York Times after a leadership meeting, an "official" with the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nationâ€™s largest gay and lesbian advocacy organizations, was quoted as saying that the group was considering a bargain with the Bush administration over Social Security reform. In exchange for guaranteeing partner benefits, said the source, the Human Rights Campaign would consider backing the president in his bid to privatize social security.
The reaction from other rights groups was swift and stern.
"We specifically reject any attempts to trade equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a group that includes many elders, for the rights of senior citizens under Social Security or, for that matter, the rights of any other group of Americans," wrote several LGBT rights leaders in response to the New York Times article.
The letter, which was displayed on the website of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and delivered to every member of Congress, also responded to a strategy proposal by the Human Rights Campaign that the LGBT movement pull back from its struggle for marriage rights and focus on smaller, more piecemeal victories.
"We will not sacrifice our rights -- or the rights of others like senior citizens -- on the altar of political expediency," wrote the organizations. "Most of us, if confronted with that choice, would not even know where to begin. Which right would we give up? The right to adopt children? The right to serve our country proudly and with honor? The right to be at our partnerâ€™s bedside in death? And how much would we be willing to hurt others like seniors as part of a cynical deal to â€˜helpâ€™ ourselves? We are not for sale to those who would undermine Social Security, and we are not prepared to walk away from political leaders who have stood with us."
Perhaps in response to the sharp criticism from her peers, Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, clarified the groupâ€™s position in an interview with the Times.
Saying that the group has not yet endorsed any particular approach to Social Security reform, "We have to say privatization might bring more equity to the system because it gives an individual more flexibility in designating a beneficiary."
She added, "That addresses one concern of the gay and lesbian community, but it may raise others."
In a statement on the Human Rights Campaignâ€™s website, the group clarified its position further: "HRC intends to use [the] debate [over social security reform] to promote to the country the fact that GLBT people [lack] a majority of the social security benefits enjoyed by most Americans right now [as long as] we cannot designate a beneficiary to the monies we have earned. We will not be used as a partisan tool and have taken no position to support privatization."
Calling the original Times story "incomplete" and "inaccurate" in its portrayal of the groupâ€™s stance on marriage rights, HCR said, its "goals are unchanged and rock solid.
There will be no retreat or compromise in the pursuit of full equality for GLBT Americans, including our right to marry, protect our families and be free from discrimination at work."
Meanwhile, other LGBT rights groups continue to gather support for their letter to Congress, which they plan to send to lawmakers again with a complete list of signatures.
"[A]lthough the struggle for freedom can be difficult and painful for those without full equality, it would be an historic mistake to grow tired of the battle or surrender basic rights and equality in order to make the road easier," they wrote. "We have made it through some extremely harsh and challenging times, including losing thousands and thousands of our friends and family to HIV/AIDS."
They concluded, "Given recent events, we wanted to restate our determination to do whatâ€™s right for our community, for senior citizens, and for America."