One effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack has been to paper over partisan divisions, at least temporarily, in the political terrain of Washington, D.C. That has both positive and negative effects on what advocates had hoped to accomplish during the remaining days of this session of Congress, on issues that affect the LGBT community.
A traditional priority at the end of session rush is to pass the appropriations bills to operate government agencies for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.
"Previous to Sept. 11, I think that we were all pessimistic about increases in funding for a number of domestic discretionary programs, including AIDS, breast and cervical cancer detection and research programs," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign. "Things are very different on every level in all of our lives since Sept. 11."
"The starkly partisan political debates" over tapping the Social Security Trust Fund for deficit spending have virtually disappeared, said Bill Arnold, with the ADAP Working Group. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program pays for HIV drugs and is in need of additional money.
"We're benefiting somewhat from the 'let's not have any fights' atmosphere on Capitol Hill, said Arnold. "The politics of the moment is that if the economy tanks, there won't be any body working to provide the money," so spending to stimulate the economy is OK.
"It's no secret that the White House is advocating for more ADAP money," but it is still unclear what the final number will end up being, he said. The Department of Health and Human Services has promised to release the money early and "that may prevent the Florida ADAP program from collapsing in November, and who knows what else."
"I think that the proactive legislative agenda is very much on hold as we, as much of the rest of the country, grieve, and as we try to figure out what our next steps are," said Stachelberg. A Senate hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, scheduled for Oct. 2, was canceled.
Log Cabin Spokesman Kevin Ivers was even more blunt. "What was defined as the gay agenda before Sept. 11 has been shoved to the side" along with most other legislation, "and you are not hearing any screaming and yelling from the gay groups about that. If you walk the gay neighborhoods, you see American flags everywhere, you realize that things have changed."
"Very real concerns have come to the forefront, things like partner and survivor benefits, and the Pentagon policy" on gays in the military. Ivers said that gays and lesbians are looking for a way to support the effort against terrorism.
He pointed to public officials' statements of tolerance and nondiscrimination, even though they were directed toward Muslims and Arab Americans, as having a spillover effect on creating a better atmosphere for the GLBT community. The fact that the FBI is investigating over 300 allegations of such discrimination perhaps lessens the need for further legislation in this area.
A vote on hate-crimes legislation, once promised in the fall by Majority Leader Tom Daschle ( D-SD ) , now seems unlikely this year. Though one can create a scenario where the measure may be attached to antiterrorism legislation, with the acquiescence if not quite the support of the White House, to help allay fears of the erosion of civil liberties.
Stachelberg said they have taken on other responsibilities. One was to closely monitor the package of financial relief for the airline industry that was rushed through Congress. "We were concerned that a provision might be attached to exempt airlines from state and local laws" that the industry views as financial burdens. She mentioned local living wage laws and the San Francisco domestic-partners benefits law that the industry has been fighting. But that did not happen.