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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The LGBT Vote

Jay Brown, Director of Communications, Human Rights Campaign, and Mira Patel, Former Advisor to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on LGBT issues
Philadelphia, PA
July 25, 2016

Date: 07/25/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Jay Brown, Director of Communications at the Human Rights Campaign, and Mira Patel, Former Advisor to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on LGBT issues, discuss the LGBT vote at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. - State Dept Image

3:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: I’d like to welcome our next briefers, who will be speaking on the LGBT vote and the role in the 2016 general election. Our first speaker is Mr. Jay Brown, the Human Rights Campaign director of communications. Prior to this role he served as the director of research and public education, helping to shape the Human Rights Campaign’s approach to generating research and educational campaigns. He also directed research and public education efforts for the HRC Foundation, where he focused on developing a range of reports, issue briefs, tool kits, and other resources focusing on a range of issues impacting LGBTQ Americans.

Jay also worked at the Human Rights Campaign between 2000 and 2006 advancing messages of fairness for LGBTQ people in the media. His work included managing communication strategies around the defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and advancing the equality of transgender people.

Our second speaker, Mira Patel, served in the Obama Administration for over five years as a special advisor on Secretary Clinton’s policy planning staff at the U.S. Department of State and as a senior advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Small Business Administration. She is one of the principal architects of U.S. policies on LGBT, women’s, and international human rights, and she has launched multimillion dollar public-private partnerships including the Global Equality Fund and the Women in Public Service Project. Ms. Patel is focused on furthering economic development and the advancement of human rights through technology, entrepreneurship, and innovative public-private partnerships.

Before we begin, I would like to remind everybody to please turn their devices on silent or vibrate and again point out that our speakers’ views are their own and they do not represent those of the U.S. Government. Thank you very much.

MR BROWN: Thank you. Thank you for having me join this discussion at a really crucial time for our country and especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer Americans. LGBTQ is how I’ll refer to them from here on out.

The stakes in this election could not be higher. All the progress the LGBTQ community has fought for under President Obama is at risk under a Trump-Pence administration. That’s why the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights organization, has endorsed Hillary Clinton, a true pro-equality champion. For this discussion today, I’ll focus on three major factors in this election: the power of the LGBTQ voting block; Hillary Clinton’s historic commitment to LGBTQ rights; and the dangers of a Trump-Pence ticket.

First let’s talk about our vote. The LGBTQ community and our vote in the United States is crucial to the outcome of this election. In 2012, roughly 6 million LGBTQ voters cast a ballot in an election where President Barack Obama won by just under 5 million votes. To put that in perspective, if the LGBTQ community were a single state, we would hold more electoral votes than the swing state of Ohio. In fact, the number of LGBTQ residents in key swing states like Florida, Nevada, and Ohio exceeded the average margin of victory in those states in the last three presidential elections.

We can also not forget that the LGBTQ community turns out a vote at a much higher rate than the average electorate. Beyond LGBTQ voters there are our allies. A majority of voters identify a candidate’s opposition to LGBTQ equality as a disqualifying factor. In fact, 59 percent of 2016 likely voters would be less likely to support a presidential candidate opposed to LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, and 55 percent are less likely to support a candidate who opposes same-sex couples’ rights to marry. From marriage equality to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we have to preserve our hard-won gains, and the majority of Americans support these hard-won gains.

Second, let’s look at the historic candidacy of Hillary Clinton when it comes to the LGBTQ community. From the beginning, Hillary Clinton has made LGBTQ equality a pillar of her campaign, releasing the most robust, ambitious, and detailed plan for LGBTQ equality we have ever seen of a presidential candidate. She will protect the gains we’ve made during the last eight years, and she has vowed to make federal nondiscrimination protections her highest priority.

During her tenure as a U.S. senator, she helped lead on bills to protect LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination and had a strong record on key issues and legislation that critically mattered to our community. As Secretary of State, she went farther than any of her predecessors to advance LGBTQ equality worldwide. She gave us a historic and forceful speech to the UN making clear that LGBTQ rights are human rights. She created the Global Equality Fund, and she helped lead the UN in the passage of the first-ever resolution on the human rights of LGBTQ people.

And now as a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has called the Equality Act her highest priority. Her detailed LGBTQ policy platform specifically calls for outlawing dangerous conversion therapy for minors, ending the epidemic of transgender violence, and supporting HIV prevention and affordable treatment, among other proposals that would advance equality and support the LGBTQ community. For her vice president she has chosen a strong ally to the LGBTQ community. Tim Kaine has a strong record, and it will strengthen her robust campaign plan.

Third, let’s look at just how dangerous a Trump-Pence ticket could be for LGBTQ people. Hillary Kaine and Tim Kaine – Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine offer a stark contrast to Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Donald Trump has attacked, belittled, and maligned anyone and everyone he considers different. He remains dangerously out of step with the fair-minded majority of Americans who believe that LGBTQ people should be treated equally under the law.

And in selecting his running mate Mike Pence, Trump doubled down on his hateful agenda. I’m not overstating things to say we are facing the most antiquated and anti-LGBTQ equality ticket in recent memory. Over the past weeks alone, Donald Trump has appeared alongside Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, a SPLC-designated hate group, and delusionally bragged about fictional support from the LGBT community in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. His false claims about his own support, however, are belied by his own long record opposing equality.

Last week at the Republican National Convention, Trump blatantly pandered to our community, saying that LGBTQ people should not be killed for who they are. I would hope that’s something which all of us could agree. He called out hateful ideologies outside U.S. borders, but he failed to mention his own platform and his own party’s platform, which are the most anti-LGBTQ in recent history. He’s vowed to roll back our rights, inflamed dangerous rhetoric about any LGBTQ person who is also a woman, a Muslim, or an immigrant, or a person living with a disability.

Gone are the days when the LGBTQ community simply accepts crumbs brushed from the table or begs for just mere acknowledgement. We need a president who can do more than just read LGBTQ off a teleprompter. We need a president who will turn words into actions every day she sits in the Oval Office. We need Hillary Clinton. She stands with us, and it’s our turn to stand with her. Her fight is our fight. Her vision is our vision, and we are stronger together committed to fighting for a better America, one that sees us all and embraces everyone regardless of who they are or who they love.

I’m going to now turn it over to my friend, Mira.

MS PATEL: Hi, everyone. My name is Mira Patel and I was a special advisor to Secretary Clinton at the State Department, and I worked for her in the Senate as well. I just wanted to take a little bit of time here to give you some insight into our work together at the State Department and what I see as the Secretary’s leadership, which I think demonstrates how she would be as president. And that is to be able to push as far as possible to expand opportunity and equality for all people and particularly LGBT people.

When we came into the State Department in 2009, this was a department that had historically fired people for being gay. We had an ambassador resign the year before to protest the Bush Administration policies that discriminated directly against his family. And you had Foreign Service officers all around the world who wanted to work with LGBT populations who saw horrific anti-sodomy bills moving forward, punishment of LGBT civil society organizers, and weren’t sure how to engage with them. You had a department that refused to join a UN resolution decrying extrajudicial killing of LGBT people.

When Secretary Clinton came in, that all changed. From an international human rights perspective, she focused on LGBT rights as part and parcel of our work. I helped her create the Global Equality Fund, which now is – represents over $40 million of U.S. funding which goes directly to local NGOs all around the world in over 40 countries, and it makes the U.S. one of the largest funders of these issues globally. Before we came in, the entire universe of funding dedicated to international LGBT issues was less than $35 million, so think about how far we’ve come in the last seven years.

She also focused on policy changes, which are less sexy than the large, fantastic public addresses like her Geneva speech, where she said gay rights are human rights. As a side note, that’s a phrase she actually coined at the State Department herself off-script at a private event we had done at Pride for State Department employees, and then that became a rhetorical call that we use to guide all of our work. So in addition to funding, the policy changes she made impacted the work of how the State Department does human rights all around the world.

She also worked with the President, who then issued the first ever presidential declaration on international LGBT rights, which talked about rights for refugees seeking asylum, public diplomacy efforts to strengthen civil society, and urged the State Department and the entire federal government to work against anti-sodomy bills, which are hampering democracy, governance, and human rights around the world.

Finally, and I think most important to me personally, I am partnered to a U.S. diplomat, and the Secretary, as one of the first things she did when she came into the department, was allow domestic partner benefits for diplomats, because we couldn’t get married in 2009. Up until the Supreme Court ruling, partnerships were not considered equal. It meant that people couldn’t be evacuated with their families.

She also changed passports – and I apologize, because this is a bit nitty-gritty, but she made passports accessible to transgender people simply with a doctor’s note. And that’s so important, because what that means is that any transgender citizen is able to get federal documentation reflecting who they are. And in so many states across the U.S., people are unable by law to change their birth certificate, to change their driver’s license, to receive any sort of valid identification.

And finally – and something I’m very proud of – one of the first things we did at the State Department following those two policies was also to protect gender identity under our equal employment policies. We were the first major federal agency to do this, and I’m proud that the entire federal government followed in step with us.

So I’ve talked at length about the Secretary. I’ll just say that when you look at the U.S. population – and Jay talked about the LGBT vote – in so many states across the country, the LGBT population self-identifies as around 3 to 4 percent or 4 to 5, depending on states. Well, as I look at the swing states across this country, the margin between businessman Donald Trump and Secretary Clinton is within 2 percentage points. So this community is incredibly important, and I think the secretary has demonstrated what she would do as president. I’ll also say that when you look at Millennials, who represent the future of the Democratic Party, 71 percent of them support marriage equality. The vast majority of them support LGBT rights, and I think any political party within the U.S. that doesn’t secure LGBT equality openly, gladly, welcomingly is never going to be able to move forward.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, now we’ll open it up to questions.

Right over here. Thank you.


MS PATEL: Hello.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: So the question from David Smith of the Guardian was a reaction to Donald Trump’s speech on LGBTQ rights at the recent convention in Cleveland and what were the motivations and what were the effects of that.

STAFF: I want to do a test. Okay, this is working.

MS PATEL: Great. I don’t want to steal Jay’s thunder here, so I’ll turn it over to him, but I’ll say I think you know exactly what Donald Trump was doing by saying LGB, right? I mean, the future is clear when the U.S. population among young people, and the Republicans have a failed strategy if this is what they’re doing to – or how they talk about equality. And I think secondly, most importantly, if you want to know what Donald Trump is going to do on LGBT issues, we heard media reports saying that when he was reaching out for vice presidential candidates, he was going to turn all policy over to them. Well, Mike Pence, his vice president, signed as governor in Indiana an odious anti-LGBT bill that cost the state of Indiana $60 million virtually instantaneously of private sector business that moved out of the state as soon as he signed that into law.

MR BROWN: Yeah. I mean, I would echo what she said, and I think it was pure political pandering. His – if you look at what few policies he’s actually committed to when it comes to LGBTQ rights, he has – he opposes marriage equality; he has offered a full-throated endorsement of HB2, which is the bill in North Carolina that is so egregiously anti-LGBT; and he endorses Kim Davis-style discrimination. He has said in his first couple of minutes of being in office, he will rescind all the executive orders that President Obama passed, which include historic protections for LGBT workers. And I think one thing that we really do hammer home in all of our questions about this and other things related to Donald Trump beyond the Mike Pence selection is that his divisive rhetoric, hateful rhetoric against women, against Muslims, against African Americans, against Latinos – this is against our community. We are diverse as the fabric of this nation, and any time he assaults a group of Americans, he’s assaulting us. So I have no faith in those comments being more than a political ploy.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Anna from Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. In 2002, Hillary was booed after declaring she was against gay marriage. Do you believe that she change her opinion in her heart, or if it was a decision made by a political nature?

MS PATEL: Look, I can’t speak for Secretary Clinton, but I will try to paraphrase her words. And she’s talked about how she evolved on the issue of marriage. President Obama was elected in 2009 among great – with great fanfare for the progress that was being made in the United States. He was also elected with a platform being opposed to marriage equality. So I think that we have benefited greatly from the opinion changes within the U.S. population, and I think our leaders, particularly on the Democratic side of things, have reflected that.

And I think the Secretary – I mean, look at what she did at the State Department and look what we did in the Senate. She was the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade in New York. I think that we, within the bounds of the law, pushed as far as we could to forward LGBT equality, and I think you see that with her presidential platform. I don’t think she’s someone who forwards empty rhetoric. I think she backs up her words with action, and you’ve seen that throughout her career. So I have great faith that she will continue to be somebody who believes LGBT people are equal members of society and will do everything she can to uphold that.

MR BROWN: And I would just add that this is a – LGBT issues have been something that the whole country has evolved on in the last couple decades, and she has been at the forefront of leading that change in many ways and has literally the most robust platform for LGBT equality that we’ve ever seen of a candidate. So I’m very convinced that she’s in the right place and has been a leader on these issues.

QUESTION: As liberals and progressives, how do you feel about what’s – oh, it’s just flashed off, but how do you feel about what’s going on today with Bernie Sanders? Were either of you sort of Sanders supporters at one point? And might you yet rally to this or are you Clinton all the way?

MR BROWN: I think that there’s room for – that’s the great thing about this – what we’re doing here and what we should be doing at the other convention, to be frank. I mean, we are a bipartisan organization. There should be room for healthy debate and pushing each other to be better, and I think that that’s something that we will continue to see in this party and hopefully in the other party. I think that what’s so interesting is the platform that the Republicans passed goes against everything that they’ve guided themselves to do after failing to win presidential elections. And healthy, vigorous debate on these issues from all sides is a good thing, so --

MS PATEL: I mean, I’m biased, so I’ve always been a supporter of the secretary’s. But I will say, I think the party platforms are a good place to look. There was a – the first openly gay member of the Republican Party platform try to get an acknowledgement that there are, quote, “differences of opinion” on marriage equality, and the Republicans refused. It is the most anti-LGBT platform in history, and that’s not my quotation. That is the Log Cabin Republicans, who are a group of gay Republicans, saying that. I think if you look at the Democratic platform, it represents a lot of the different ideas that both Bernie Sanders and Secretary Clinton forwarded, and I’m – I think it’s the progressive in history and it makes me very proud to be a Democrat, particularly as a gay Democrat.

MODERATOR: If there’s no more questions, we will close. Thank you very much.

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