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JIC Post: By LOU CHIBBARO JRWashington BladeDemocratic Party Chair Howard Dean sought to calm gay Democrats who are upset over his decision to eliminate the political party’s gay outreach office in a meeting with gay leaders in New York and in a statement reiterating the party’s support for gay rights."The Democratic Party has never been more committed to protecting equal rights for the LGBT community," Dean said in a Feb. 15 statement. "We are standing strong with the community, fighting the Republican Party’s repugnant efforts to exploit the politics of fear and division and scapegoat LGBT families for electoral gain."In a Feb. 13 meeting in Manhattan with gay Democrats and the leaders of several non-partisan gay groups, Dean said he replaced the Democratic National Committee’s "political desk" system, which included a gay outreach desk, with a new, "integrated" approach to dealing with constituency groups.He said his new American Majority Partnership program expands outreach efforts to the gay community and other constituency groups by extending them throughout all of the party’s offices and programs, according to National Gay & Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman, who attended the meeting.Veteran gay Democratic activist Ethan Geto, who chaired Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign in New York, organized the meeting.DNC spokesperson Damien LaVera said Dean’s meeting with gay Democrats was part of a previously scheduled series of meetings with Democratic Party activists in New York and was not arranged to specifically respond to his elimination of the gay outreach desk.Geto said Dean contacted him about putting the meeting together several weeks before news of Dean’s changes at the DNC surfaced. But Geto said Dean did not set a specific date for the meeting until after most gay Democrats learned about the changes from an article published in the Blade.In his Feb. 15 statement, Dean said the new system would provide more resources and staff time to gay outreach efforts than the old desk system.Anger over grassroots reportSkepticism by some gay Democratic activists over Dean’s changes boiled over into outrage last week when the DNC released its "Annual Report to the Grassroots," which omitted any mention of gays or the party’s gay outreach efforts. Activists pointed to a similar grassroots report issued a year earlier by Dean’s predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, which gave a detailed account of the party’s gay outreach program.LaVera said the six-page grassroots report issued by Dean was intended to be a brief, preliminary account of Dean’s plan to rebuild the party by strengthening its field operation in all 50 states.Although Dean replaced the outreach desk system with his new integrated program in the spring of 2005, the party did not announce the elimination of the gay desk. Most gay Democrats did not learn about the change until the Blade reported the development in its Feb. 3 edition.At that time, New York gay Democratic activist and fundraiser Jeff Soref provided the Blade with details of Dean’s changes and disclosed that he resigned from his post as chair of the DNC’s Gay & Lesbian Americans Caucus in protest over the elimination of the gay outreach desk.Soref said he expressed concern to Dean that outreach efforts to gay voters would be diminished without a full-time director or coordinator to make sure such efforts moved forward.Soref also noted that Dean’s decision to hire gay Democratic activist Donald Hitchcock last September as director of the DNC’s gay fundraising arm, the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council, was insufficient to cover gay political outreach efforts. DNC spokesperson LaVera said Hitchcock’s job duties include outreach work in addition to fundraising.‘Zero spine’Reaction to the news of the elimination of the outreach desk became intense last week in online gay message boards and various political blogs. Some activists criticized the National Stonewall Democrats, a gay group independent of the DNC with chapters throughout the country, for not taking a public stand against the elimination of the gay desk."Stonewall Dems have ZERO spine," wrote gay activist Mike Rogers in a Feb. 15 posting on the Out for Democracy blog.Eric Stern, executive director of the Stonewall Democrats, responded the next day by issuing a statement calling on the DNC to hire a full-time "LGBT political staff person" to work with Hitchcock to bolster the DNC’s outreach to gay voters.Defending DeanAndy Tobias, the DNC’s gay treasurer, and Rick Stafford, chair of the DNC’s gay caucus, said they are convinced that Dean’s motives for eliminating the party’s "desk" system are sincere, and Dean has not wavered from his longstanding support for gays."All the constituency desks were ‘abolished’ last spring, not just ours — and this was obviously not because the DNC no longer cares about women or African-Americans or Hispanics, etc.," Tobias said in an e-mail.Stafford, former chair of the Minnesota Democratic Party, said Dean is creating "an entirely different structure" for the party with the aim of helping Democrats in all 50 states become more competitive in elections.Stafford said gays already have been appointed to several of the more than 200 new field positions that Dean has created in the states."We have not been too successful in national elections lately," Stafford said. "We have to change that. So I’m willing to give this a shot."Geto agreed, but said he cautioned Dean to carefully assess how his changes are working."What I said to him was, ‘Look, I understand the skepticism and the critique that’s being made of your judgment,’" Geto said. "We gotta see what happens. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I hope you change it again."In his Feb. 15 statement, Dean said his new system of integrating gay outreach efforts throughout the DNC calls for training party workers in all 50 states to address gay outreach in their home states.
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