This year’s Democratic National Convention will likely welcome the most openly gay delegates ever .
Organizers are still certifying delegates but say they have more lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender representatives than in the past and expect at least one LGBT delegate from each of the 50 states.
At the same time, the Equality Forum, the Philadelphia-based LGBT civil rights group, announced Tuesday it would hold its 24th annual civil rights summit to coincide with the convention.
“I feel very, very optimistic. I’m hearing really positive things” said Earle Fowlker Jr., chair of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT caucus.
LGBT representation at political conventions started in 1972 when James Foster was the first openly gay person to address a national party convention.
In a primetime speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, he asked that a gay rights plank be added to the party platform. The plank was defeated.
By 2012, there were a record-breaking 550 openly LGBT delegates at the party’s convention, an increase of 200 from 2008.
Fowlkes said each state sets its own goals for minority, LGBT, female, disabled and veteran inclusion. He did not know how many LGBT people the party was aiming for in total.
“There’s no national formula because you don’t know how many LGBT people are in the population,” Fowlkes said.
“States have, within their party, figured out based on voting from the last time, what to aim for to keep the number balanced. Each state has their own method of recruiting people.”
At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, gay marriage became a rallying issue for the party.
It was featured in speeches by then-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who complimented Americans who “boldly stand at the altar with who they love.”
Since the Supreme Court ruled same sex marriage a constitutional right last June, several issues persist including enacting state and federal workplace equal protection laws, advancing transgender equality and defeating religious exemption statutes.
“This year certainly has gravitas and impact, and interestingly, too, it really comes at the tipping point,” said Malcolm Lazin, the founder of Equality Forum.
“It’s important in terms of both pushing back against those who would want to reverse the progress that’s been made and also to set the agenda for the future.”
Equality Forum will hold free panels featuring legal experts, politicians and historians in the mornings and afternoons July 25-28 before convention business in the evenings.
Lazin said the focus is on local attendees and delegates.
“We’re not really promoting anyone coming to Philadelphia because there are no hotel rooms but there will be a record number of delegates and alternates here,” he said.
As part of the summit, Equality Forum will dedicate two Philadelphia landmarks important to the LGBT civil rights movement.
A marker at 21st and Locust will be dedicated in front of the former home of Barbara Gittings, often recognized as the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement. Gittings lived in a third floor apartment at the intersectionwith her life partner Kay Lahusen in the 1960s.
A second marker will be placed at the Friends Meetinghouse where 300 activists from around the country met to organize the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
For all the representation at the convention, Lazin said there is work ahead. An openly LGBT person has never been appointed to the U.S. cabinet, Lazin said and only seven members of Congress openly identify as LGBT.
“It continues to be about a place at the table,” Lazin said.
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