Bill Clinton is not acting like a lame duck President content to merely serve out the remaining year of his term in office. In his State of the Union Address to Congress and the nation Jan. 27, he offered up a smorgasbord of program activity both great and small.
Near the very end of the hour-long speech, in a section on "community," he turned to hate violence. He referred to a list of victims, including "A young man [ Matthew Shepard ] murdered in Wyoming simply because he was gay." Clinton renewed his call for passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ( ENDA ) , as well as reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
"No American should be subjected to discrimination in finding a home, getting a job, going to school or securing a loan. Tonight I propose the largest ever investment to enforce America's civil-rights laws. Protections in law must be protections in fact," the President said.
But for lesbians and gays, the problem is that neither existing federal laws nor the proposed ones supported by the President include protection in areas of housing or loans. Nor do they resolve a multitude of other legal issues created when civil law disregards gay relationships by denying them the benefits and protections conferred through state-sanctioned marriage.
That was the only time that Clinton spoke the word "gay." There was no mention of lesbians or transgendered people.
The President did mention AIDS twice. The most extended passage focused upon an additional $150 million to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases, primarily in Africa. He also supported a tax credit for private industry working to develop vaccines against these diseases. Rep Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco has pushed that measure.
In the days leading up to the address the White House made clear that it is seeking incremental increases in funding for AIDS services. AIDS advocates continue to be disappointed by the fact that the likely budget will not include substantial increases for prevention activities. The CDC estimates that 40,000 people become infected with HIV each year. That number is increasingly among young Blacks and Hispanics, principally men having sex with men.
Clinton also is proposing a $1 billion increase in total funding for research at the National Institutes of Health ( NIH ) . That is a little more than 5 percent above its current budget. It is more than the likely increase in the cost of living but less than the rate of inflation in healthcare. By contrast, last year the President asked for a 2 percent increase for NIH and the Republican-controlled Congress passed a 15 percent increase.
Another initiative being pushed by the President is a $3,000 tax credit for those taking care of someone who is severely disabled. That could have a significant financial impact upon lesbians and gays who care for their ailing partners. However, details of the program remain to be worked out. There is a significant possibility that LGBTs will not be included within the definition of those who are eligible for the benefit, just as they were not specifically included in the original draft of the government's health master plan, Healthy People 2010. Vigilance will be required.