Monday, December 20, 2010

A hearty welcome to Equality Matters


Clinton White House aide Richard Socarides, a frequent critic of the Obama administration on LGBT issues including its actions in support of DADT repeal, heads Media Matters' "new media and communications initiative" in support of LGBT equality.

"Equality Matters, [David] Brock said, should 'expose right-wing bigotry and homophobia wherever we find it' and 'stiffen the spines of progressives.' That, he said, did not change with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' . . . 'We know that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be a news hook,' Mr. Brock said. 'But we believe the big battle is full equality.'"
-- from Sheryl Gay Stolberg's NYT blog report on the
creation of the Media Matters spinoff Equality Matters

by Ken

In the two years she's been Washington correspondent for The Advocate, Kerry Eleveld has established herself as one of the sharper and more persistent members of the DC press corps. Okay, considering the pronounced docility of that press corps, this sounds like a back-handed compliment. She's done a bang-up job, making herself a living nuisance for White House press goader Robert Gibbs, regularly holding him answerable for the President Obama's lip-service-oriented position on LGBT issues.

Kerry will be missed in that capacity as she moves on to what we can all hope will be an important new mission, as editor of the website of Equality Matters, a new "project" of Media Matters, to be headed by Richard Socarides. The website goes live today, as Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in an extensive account on the NYT blog "The Caucus," which begins (for links see the onsite version):
December 19, 2010

One Battle Won, Activists Shift Sights


WASHINGTON -- As gay people around the country reveled on Sunday in the historic Senate vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a liberal media watchdog group said it planned to announce on Monday that it was setting up a "communications war room for gay equality" in an effort to win the movement's next and biggest battle: for a right to same-sex marriage.

The new group, Equality Matters, grew out of Media Matters, an organization backed by wealthy liberal donors -- including prominent gay philanthropists -- that has staked its claim in Washington punditry with aggressive attacks on Fox News and conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

It will be run by Richard Socarides, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who has been deeply critical of President Obama's record on gay rights. A well-known gay journalist, Kerry Eleveld, the Washington correspondent for The Advocate, will leave that newspaper in January to edit the new group's Web site,, which is to go online Monday morning.

"Yesterday was a very important breakthrough," Mr. Socarides said in an interview on Sunday, "and President Obama's comments, especially following the vote, were very significant, where he for the first time connected race and gender to sexual orientation under the banner of civil rights.

"But we will celebrate this important victory for five minutes, and then we have to move on, because we are the last group of Americans who are discriminated against in federal law and there is a lot of work to do."

Mr. Obama ran for office promising to be a "fierce advocate" for the rights of gay people, and he pledged his support for goals deeply important to them. These included passing a hate crimes bill making it a federal crime to assault someone because of sexual orientation; repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military; passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would forbid employers to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation; and overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for purpose of all federal laws.

Just what the administration contributed to the DADT victory will remain a subject of debate, but the lack of progress with the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) despite those Democratic congressional majorities that are already ghostly memories is painful, and leaves the jobs of people all over the country subject to the whims of prejudice against their sexual orientation, and the still-untouched (except lately in the courts) DOMA remains an insurmountable obstacle to full citizenship for the LGBT community.

The Equality Matters website was already accepting signups for its mailing list yesterday. The site's "About Us" says: is a new media and communications initiative in support of gay equality. Through strategic communications, research, training and media monitoring we strengthen efforts for full LGBT rights and correct anti-gay misinformation. Our goal is to enhance advocacy and activism across all platforms and to leverage our expertise in support of others who are working to make full equality a national imperative.

Stolberg's NYT blog report continues:
While a range of groups are working to advance gay rights, the movement has lacked a national rapid-response war room of the sort that can push back against homophobic messages in the media and the political arena and keep the pressure on elected officials, said David Mixner, a gay author and activist.

"I think the lesson we have learned over the last two years is that you've got to be tough," Mr. Mixner said, "and you've got to keep people's feet to the fire."

The organizers of Equality Matters say that is their intent. Mr. Socarides and the founder of Media Matters, David Brock, said they began planning Equality Matters several months ago. They quickly persuaded Ms. Eleveld, who covered the Obama campaign and has covered Washington for the last two years, to join them.

"I've spent the past two years with a front-row seat to history, and the longer I sat there the more I felt drawn to participating," Ms. Eleveld said in an interview.

Mr. Brock, a former conservative journalist who is gay -- and who broke with the right in the 1990s -- has lately been expanding the Media Matters organization. He said in an interview that he had raised $23 million in the last year for the group, which has an operating budget of $13 million. His backers include George Soros, the liberal donor; the Hollywood producer Steve Bing; and gay philanthropists like James Hormel, an ambassador to Luxembourg under Mr. Clinton.

Equality Matters, Mr. Brock said, should "expose right-wing bigotry and homophobia wherever we find it" and "stiffen the spines of progressives." That, he said, did not change with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He said Equality Matters was planned long before anyone in Washington had an inkling that repeal was possible.

"We know that ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will be a news hook," Mr. Brock said. "But we believe the big battle is full equality, which is gay marriage."

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