Press

Organizations Across Country Send 4th of July Reminder to All Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People and Allies

Date: 
July 03, 2003

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) National Policy Roundtable today released the following statement in response to the Bush Administration's past and ongoing abridgements of civil liberties and ongoing and misleading statements about the LGBT community (i.e. Santorum, Frist). Endorsers of this statement are: Family Pride Coalition; Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.; L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; Mautner Project; National Association of LGBT Community Centers; National Center for Lesbian Rights; National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; National Transgender Advocacy Coalition; National Youth Advocacy Coalition; Pride At Work; and, World Congress of GLBT Jews.

WHAT OUR FOUNDERS FOUGHT FOR

As leaders of organizations that serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in this country and beyond, we appreciate the protections embodied in this nation's Constitution and Bill of Rights. On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. While there have been moments is our collective history where we have ignored the eloquent assertion "all men are created equal," the Declaration of Independence nevertheless embodies some of our highest aspirations. Yet this year the noble commands of equality and creating a "more perfect union" have been run roughshod by a government virtually unchecked in ravaging of some of our most cherished freedoms.

Many in this country and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community continue to suffer the pain of discrimination, racism and justice denied. Moreover, in recent months immigrants and even citizens of color in this country have been targeted, spied on and swept up in a manner that makes a mockery of the symbol so many fly proudly today. But even against such a backdrop we are mindful that the noble aspirations of liberty and freedoms that form the bedrock of our democracy always make possible great strides forward.

The critical importance of our Constitution and Bill of Rights in setting forth principles to which we always hope this nation will aspire, now requires us to express our profound lack of confidence and deep concern over the direction and decisions of the President of the United States, Congress, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

We have grown increasingly alarmed at the current Administration's blatant disregard and disdain for the fundamental principles of our American Democracy-the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, the Fifth Amendment right to due process, and the willful defiance of the checks and balances that are designed to prevent unfettered exercise of power by any particular branch of government.

Since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the most basic freedoms and protections have been undermined and eroded. We cannot and will not stand silent while the very principles which ideally make this nation strong and vibrant are cast aside in pursuit of ill-defined goals and undisclosed threats.

In the shell-shocked aftermath of September 11, Congress passed the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" known by shorthand as the USA Patriot Act. The Patriot Act steamrolled through Congress with very little debate. It is likely that very few members even read the 342-page law which gives law enforcement agencies like the FBI sweeping surveillance powers, powers curtailed by Congress after the well-documented FBI abuses of the 1960's and 70's. Only Wisconsin Congressman Russell Feingold voted no, pointing out: "There is no doubt that if we lived in a police state it would be easier to catch terrorists, but that would not be America."

In the past year the Patriot Act has been deployed to detain or deport thousands. American citizens have been questioned, homes have been searched, all while the most basic protections of due process, right to counsel and right to a fair trial have been unilaterally eliminated or curtailed. Earlier this month the Justice Department internal oversight unit released a report highly critical of the tactics employed by the Bush administration and the Justice Department. The scathing report notes that hundreds of immigrants, with no connection to terrorism, were systematically detained indefinitely with no access to family or a lawyer. As if all this is not enough, it was recently reported that the Ashcroft Justice Department was at work on Patriot 2, described as a "wish list" of changes to various laws to "tweak" the original USA Patriot Act.

The potential elimination of the most basic privacy protections detailed in Patriot II are so stunning that a landslide of criticism from both those on the political left and far right have joined the chorus denouncing the draft law. Under Patriot 2 American citizens could be stripped of US citizenship if he or she "becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United States has designated as a 'terrorist organization', if that group is engaged in hostilities against the United States." According to the New York Times Magazine under Patriot 2 "[a]n American citizen suspected of being part of a terrorist conspiracy could be held by investigators without anyone being notified. He could simply disappear." Patriot 2 expands all kinds of surveillance powers and grants the government authority to obtain information without subpoena or warrant.

As a community that is legally marginalized in this country, we understand that civil liberties protections are already tenuous for many communities in the U.S. We also know from long experience that those in our community who are of-color or poor will suffer the most under a regime that restricts constitutional freedoms.

If we come to a point in this country where the protections and guarantees embodied in the Bill of Rights only apply to a few-mostly white-citizens, then we have lost the battle and the war. As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans we understand that we can love our country AND be highly critical of our government. We know what it means to suffer the pain of discrimination and the sting of scapegoating. Thus, we must raise our voices in dissent of bankrupt and dangerous policies. We can make a difference in the course of action this country pursues.

We call on all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and all individuals of conscience to express our collective refusal to sit quietly while the rights we cherish are systematically eroded. The freedom we celebrate July 4 is more vulnerable and fragile than ever before. Our celebration must mark a renewed commitment to stand strong against any further encroachment. We must speak out and fight back.

Contact information for your members of Congress can be found at the House Web site and the Senate Web site

Sources:

The September 11 Detainees: A review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks; U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, April 2003.

Justice Department Contemplates Seeking More Sweeping Powers, Bill would Further Erode Limits on Antiterror Powers, Report of American Civil Liberties Union, 2003

New York Times Magazine, February 23, 2003.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.