Interview with Howard Dean

Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is former Governor of Vermont and presidential candidate in 2004. He was the first governor in the nation to sign civil-union legislation into law. At the DNC, he has fought for LGBT inclusion. He sat with Mark Segal of the Gay History Project for a pre-convention preview.

MS: I cannot wait to get out there. The convention in Denver will be the most LGBT-inclusive in history. How does that make you feel?

HD: That’s great; we set out to do that. We thought that LGBT folks were underrepresented, specifically from certain states, and we made a big effort to create this as well as goals for folks that we would like to include. I think it’s now 47 states that have openly gay or lesbian members in the delegation, and we have the first transsexual, who I believe is on a platform committee.

MS: If there is an Obama administration, what do you think should be the LGBT position? Should we go for the nondiscrimination bill first, should we go for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [the military ban on openly gay servicemembers] or do you think we should go for all of it?

HD: The first thing should be the nondiscrimination bill. Human rights is the basis of all of this, and the most discriminatory things that should be gotten rid of at once are the things that allow people to assume that gay people somehow don’t have full and equal rights as everybody else. That’s a given. The hate-crimes bill and things of that sort are first.

MS: Many people look at Barack Obama as having the first real inclusive campaign on LGBT issues. Other people talk about Clinton, but in reality it was your campaign for presidency that really went door to door and engaged neighborhoods across the country.

HD: Well, that’s true. Because I did the first civil-union bill, we had a very special relationship with the LGBT community. They actually supported me very early on. I’ll never forget, and I forgot who said this though it might have been Andy Tobias [former DNC treasurer], who I didn’t know that well at the time. He would call up people and say, “Look, can you give [Dean] some money?” and they would say, “He doesn’t have a chance,” and Andy would say, “Yeah, he may not have a chance, but he did a lot for human rights, so give him $1,000 because he’s done the right thing, and then you can give $1,000 to the person you think is gonna win.” That was pretty neat.

MS: Andy has gone on to become a very good fundraiser for the DNC.

HD: He actually did that before. He’s been the fundraiser for I think nine years now.

MS: I’m sort of amazed at all the LGBT people not only on the DNC but also on the Barack Obama team.

HD: Well, they’re also in the most senior positions we’ve ever seen as well. Although actually, that’s not quite true, we had pretty senior people in my campaign who were LGBT.

MS: During your campaign and then when you became DNC chair, you had this gay-friendly agenda. Was there a fight against it from other Democrats?

HD: There wasn’t really a big fight against it. There was a fight over the civil-rights issue, because we had to do it in a way that didn’t diminish the victories of the 1960s in terms of civil rights. A lot of it, as it often is, is about education. The closer you get, the more educated people get about it and the easier it is to sell civil rights and fairness to everybody. My thing is people shouldn’t get in a contest about who has been hurt the most by discrimination. Discrimination in any form is wrong.

MS: Are you amazed at how far the DNC has gone on the platform on gay issues?

HD: Well, I’m pleased, but I think that we have a lot of work to do in this country and until everybody has equal rights under the law, we’re not there yet. And as I often say, the LGBT community is kind of the “canary in the coal mine.” It’s easy to be against discrimination but you have to be against discrimination for everybody and not just for some people.

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