Forcing the issues

Kathy Kennedy and Dan Graney, co-chairs of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Stonewall Dems support Kerry, with reservations

The cars in the parking lot had more political stickers than rainbows. When I entered the restaurant, I explained to a waiter that I was there for the 'Stonewall Democrats' meeting. Puzzled, he offered to show me to a 'Kerry supporters meeting.' I decided to enter, wagering that a group of Democrats dedicated to the issues of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community could pass as Kerry supporters.

"Stonewall Democrats?" I asked sheepishly. "Welcome. How did you find out about us?" answered the greeter.

The San Antonio Stonewall Democrats, who belong to the larger National Stonewall Democrats organization, see their purpose as "educating the public about LGBT issues, supporting candidates who address those issues, and advancing the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." They held their June meeting to discuss the State Democratic Convention, voter registration strategies, and a certain proposal to amend the constitution. Although the gay marriage debate continues to loom, Stonewall Democrats contend that they are more than just a one-issue group.

Stonewall counts more than 100 members, but not all of them fit the typical profile of the LGBT community. "We have a lot of straight members," said the chapter's co-chair, Kathy Kennedy.

Unity among several groups - regardless of sexual orientation - is a key election-year strategy. Stonewall has joined with the Human Rights Campaign and the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, and has also tried to partner with more conservative groups. "We have approached the Log Cabin Republicans and invited them to join us, but they haven't participated," said Kennedy.

In addition to advocating for the LGBT community, the Stonewall Democrats have also championed standard Democratic platforms. "Our issues are everybody's issues," said Kennedy. "This election year is about the three C's: civility, civil liberties, and civil rights."

Like other Democratic groups, Stonewall is concerned with international affairs as well as domestic policies.

Stonewall also advocates for local change. First, they would like to see San Antonio-based corporations extend health benefits to domestic partners. Only SBC and H-E-B currently provide their employees with domestic partner benefits. Secondly, Stonewall hopes City Council will implement anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation.

To achieve their goals, Stonewall Democrats make themselves visible around town. "Anytime there's an open forum, we're there. Any local event, sidewalk, or curb," said Kennedy.

Although the gay marriage debate continues to loom, Stonewall Democrats contend that they are more than just a one-issue group.
Sometimes their presence pays off. When the Texas House of Representatives considered a bill to allow only straight couples to serve as foster parents, the Stonewall Democrats pressed their Representatives to oppose it. After their lobbying efforts, the bill failed to get out of committee.

More recently, their work has forced people to confront LGBT issues. When speakers at the Democratic State convention in Houston avoided discussing the Federal Marriage Amendment, local chapters of Stonewall created visible reminders. "We pooled our funds, went to Kinko's at 3 a.m., and made 500 signs that said 'Don't Amend - Defend the Constitution.' The next day, signs flashed every time someone spoke." The signs ultimately were effective beyond mere decoration when several speakers addressed the issue of gay marriage.

While the Federal Marriage Amendment was defeated on a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate, Kennedy warns that the fight may not be over. "Each state may now come forth and try to write it in their constitutions. I'm sure they will try to amend the Texas constitution," Kennedy said, adding that it would only intensify their need to educate the community.

The gay marriage debate could also help shape the type of candidates Stonewall endorses. Although they will support Senator Kerry for President, some doubts remain about his commitment to LGBT rights. "It's disappointing because he hasn't defined what marriage is," said Kennedy. To her, Kerry's support of civil unions, but his reluctance to support gay marriage, is bewildering. "The problem is, right now, within the law to get the 1,000 federal rights that everyone else gets - it's called marriage," explained Kennedy.

Ultimately, Kerry's support of civil unions and his stance against the Federal Marriage Amendment will garner him Stonewall's endorsement. As Kennedy put it: "He's not seeking laws to restrict our existence."

Stonewall also invites local candidates to attend their meetings and speak about their platforms. Members then vote on endorsements, which Kennedy says has helped increase their profile. "We're becoming a viable force in this town," she said.

Although gay marriage has placed their community at the center of controversy, Kennedy points out that Stonewall is not a radically demanding group. "We're not asking for special rights, only for what everyone else has." •