Forum pushes LGBT issues beyond party lines

The chairs of Connecticut’s Democratic and Republican parties joined about 40 others from around the state Wednesday night to discuss gay marriage, homophobia and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues key in the 2008 election.

The open forum, hosted by and held at New Haven’s Gay & Lesbian Community Center, was the first official dialogue on these issues between the state’s major parties and featured questions including whether a Republican governor would support LGBT-friendly legislation.

Attendants said the forum helped facilitate discussion on a range of issues that are often neglected.

Christopher Healy, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said he hoped this forum would help “dispel myths” about the Republican Party’s attitudes toward the LGBT community.

“I hope we’ll get a fair hearing out of this event and correct some misconceptions about the Republican Party,” he said before the forum.

“As you can see, I don’t have any horns,” he joked to the audience, before saying seriously he will bring the concerns of the people back to his party and to his party’s candidates.

Nancy DiNardo, chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said she hoped this forum would allow individuals to voice their opinions.

“I want to hear about what laws people think should be changed,” she said. “The LGBT community has not been treated with equality.”

She said she hoped to learn more about LGBT issues from the event.

“I’m sorry we have to be here,” she said in her opening statement. “[The LGBT community] should have been treated as equals a long time ago.”

The representatives were asked questions from the audience on various issues, including the equality of marriage, their parties’ stances on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, financial benefits of spouses in civil unions and homophobia in the Connecticut legislature, among others.

One question, posed through a moderator to ensure anonymity, probed into the Democratic Party’s commitment to support LGBT-friendly legislation.

“A few years ago, when the Democrats had a solid majority, the Party leader in the house voted against a bill to equalize marriage,” one participant asked. “Are you only here to get our votes and then allow your leaders to vote their homophobia?”

She replied that each representative is beholden to their own constituencies, but added that the particular Connecticut House Majority Leader is not seeking re-election.

Though the forum was heated, attendees were happy to at last have a place to voice their concerns.

Carol Buckheit, associate director of the Connecticut-based Love Makes a Family organization, which advocates equal marriage rights for all, said she was happy this event occurred.

“It’s really good that they’re willing to do something like this, especially in the election season,” she said.

John Allen, co-president of the New Haven Gay & Lesbian Community Center, echoed these sentiments.

“As gay people become more involved in politics, politicians need to hear about issues that are important to us,” he said. “Currently, our community is very small, and particularly because of the bias against us, we need more events like this.”

Attendees said the event was a step in the right direction, toward legislative solutions.

“But,” added Jerimarie Liesegang, director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, “even legislation won’t make everything go away. An open dialogue is only a step in the right direction, and there are some critical issues out there for our community.”

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