Friday, January 16, 2009

A Federal Commission to Push for the Rights of LGBT Persons (Among Others...)

this would be a good thing

Gay Rights - A Federal Commission to Push for the Rights of LGBT Persons (Among Others...)

Is the Justice Department's Commission on Civil Rights too antiquated to deal with the unique challenges facing the civil rights movement today?

The answer may be yes, if you listen to Mary Frances Berry. Who is she? She was the Chairwoman of the Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 through 2004, whose mission is to "appraise federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice."

Hmm...what's missing from that list? Sexual orientation and gender identity.

Berry has an op-ed piece out today that says that President-Elect Barack Obama should abolish the current Commission on Civil Rights, and create a new, independent body that addresses the civil rights of many groups, including gays and lesbians. According to Berry, the current Commission has become the antithesis of what it was set out to do in the 1950s and 60s, and has instead become infected with political appointees more interested in pushing the agenda of the executive branch.

The Commission on Civil Rights has been crippled since the Reagan years by the appointments of commissioners who see themselves as agents of the presidential administration rather than as independent watchdogs. The creation of a new, independent human and civil rights commission could help us determine our next steps in the pursuit of freedom and justice in our society. A number of explosive issues like immigration reform await such a commission, but recommendations for resolving the controversies over the rights of gays, lesbians and transgendered people should be its first order of business.

Berry's call follows a campaign launched today by another group,, which is calling for a cabinet level position to address the rights of LGBT citizens.

What's clear from both Berry's call for a new civil rights structure within government, and EqualRep's call for a cabinet position, is that there is currently no adequate government structure that equates LGBT rights with civil rights. And that's a real problem.

Berry quotes Coretta Scott King: "What’s the yardstick by which we should decide that gay rights are less important than other human rights we care about?" That's a question that President-Elect Obama will have to start figuring out in about T-minus 96 hours

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