Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine set the disturbing scene of America today.
“We are living in a stress test of our constitutional democracy,” Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate told the packed ballroom at the Human Rights Campaign’s Los Angeles gala March 18. “We have taken this thing in for the 230-year checkup to see whether the institutions that were put in place in 1787 still exist. And if Congress does, and the courts do, and the press does, and the citizens do the roles that we were intended to do, this chapter will have an end. And the end of the chapter will be that our system was vindicated over any temporary occupant of any of the positions in the Constitution.”
HRC President Chad Griffin, an Angelino, painted a more vivid picture.
“We are going to hold Donald Trump’s tiny little hands to the fire every day,” he said to laughter and applause. “We won’t stand by as he waves a rainbow flag while undermining equality behind closed doors. We won’t stand by while he denies asylum to LGBTQ refugees fleeing persecution, violence or even death. Or while he deports thousands of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants living in America today.”
Drawing a sharp contrast between the previous and current administrations was a running theme.
“This is one of the few times when I think all of us have realized that although the hands of time go forward, sometimes they can go back,” said California gubernatorial candidate and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has been a strong LGBT ally since he was Assembly Speaker in 1994. “We need to fight for the notion that America has always strived—as President Obama used to say so eloquently—to be a more perfect union. To stand up for equality for all of us.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that power flows from the cities to Washington and it’s time to not just resist but to “take this country back.” Since L.A. is a sanctuary city, the Los Angeles Blade asked about undocumented trans immigrants terrified of being caught in ICE deportation sweeps. “We will protect them!” Garcetti said forcefully.
Gay Rep. Mark Takano told the Blade that the Equality Caucus intends to re-introduce the Equality Act. “I have no illusions of it passing the House or getting through the committee with jurisdiction, which is my committee, the Education and Workforce committee,” he said. “But rest assured (Rep.) David Cicilline and I and the other members of the Equality Caucus are doing everything we can to increase the number of co-sponsors.”
Takano said the Equality Act would not be amended to include a “religious liberties” provision as a sweetener for Republicans, a strategy once considered for passing the discarded Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The Equality Act adds ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “It’s a very simple, elegant bill,” Takano said. “Why would we want to dilute it with ‘religious freedom’ exceptions? After the Hobby Lobby decision and seeing how the Supreme Court operates, we don’t want to pass an Equality Act that in turn will be full of a loophole. So, no, I would be very much opposed to that.”
For Griffin, the Equality Act will soon put Donald Trump on notice. “When we announced the Equality Act, out of the box, we had more corporate support, more business partners than we had on any piece of legislation in our history,” Griffin told the Blade. “So we continue to grow that coalition and our endorsers from the business side are truthfully some of the biggest job-creators in the country today.”
And therein lies the rub for Trump, who promised to be the nation’s biggest job-creator, says Griffin.
“The job creators of this country are standing up, more so than ever before,” he said. “It is a unified force of businesses standing up and speaking out, whether that’s in North Carolina or whether it’s in the state of Texas with the hateful legislation that’s being thrust upon us there, or nationally as it relates to the Equality Act” because it impacts their employees and it’s good for business.
“I think this is a test of Donald Trump,” Griffin said. “Despite his actions, he has continued to pretend that he is an ally to our community. This will be the test. If he’s actually an ally, he’ll endorse the Equality Act.”
Griffin’s comments are not just dust in the wind. Just days after last year’s HRC gala where he called upon the entertainment industry to shun states like Georgia that were proposing anti-LGBT legislation, Disney, Marvel, the Weinstein Company and Netflix announced they would not allow movie or TV production in the state if the anti-LGBT HB 757 became law. They joined other corporations such as Apple and Salesforce and the prized NFL in also threatening a boycott. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the “religious liberty” bill. This year, HRC worked to defeat anti-LGBT North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory over HB2 and it threatens to come after any other anti-LGBT legislators.
The entertainment industry is “uniquely positioned” to elevate the voices “of real people that are harmed and impacted by Donald Trump’s hateful policies,” said Griffin. “There’s a great example in this room. Donald Trump has a tiny little Twitter account (29.9 million personally; 16.2 under POTUS). Katy Perry has a massive Twitter account (96.6 million). Then you add Katy with America (Ferrera) and everyone else in this room—this is a powerful community and this community plays a critical role in changing hearts and minds by telling stories and we need more of it.”
Griffin is unconcerned about apparent continued divisions within the Democratic Party. “The Republican Party of today is the party of Trump that rejects every single minority group in this country,” Griffin said. “We now have one big bold enemy: Donald Trump has unified the pro-equality majority in this country like I’ve never seen it before.”