Out CA Congressman Fights for Equality
In a wide ranging interview, California’s first openly gay congressman, in office just over 100 days, addressed the challenging issues facing the LGBT community and pledged to fight efforts to "turn back the clock" on equality and opportunity.
Before discussing LGBT issues, Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), in a telephone interview from his Capitol Hill office, said the Boston Marathon bombings and the citywide lockdown, in effect at the time of the April 19 interview, had special meaning for him as he graduated from Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Takano, 53, who is also the first gay person of color elected to Congress, said he felt connected to the tragedy in another way. Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old Chinese graduate student killed in the bombing, had studied at UC Riverside, he said. The young woman, who was a student at Boston University at the time of her death, was remembered by Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai at a Chinese Embassy ceremony in Washington, which Takano attended.
At the time of the interview, the alleged Boston bombers were identified as being of Chechen descent. Takano said it would be "unfortunate for this tragedy to be politicized" in a way that would harshen debate on immigration reform for the 11 million immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, in the U.S.
Takano said there were good aspects to current immigration reform legislation, but work is needed to make immigration equality a reality for same-sex binational couples. [See story, page 7.]
Regarding last month’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments on Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex families, Takano said he was "cautiously optimistic" the court would rule for marriage equality. He said there is nationwide support for same-sex marriage and the high court should not "turn back the clock on marriage equality."
"Justice [Anthony] Kennedy should poetically use the language of the 14th Amendment [to the U.S Constitution] in his decision rather than ’legalese’ of states’ rights," Takano said. He called on the high court to issue a national finding for marriage equality rather than a narrow finding.
He also discussed the possibility of Democrats retaking control of the House in next year’s midterm elections.
"Democrats can absolutely regain the House of Representatives in 2014," Takano said. The GOP leadership has revealed its "extreme" vision for the country in the budget by anti-LGBT Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, he said.
In the GOP budget, Takano said, defense spending escapes sequester while cuts in discretionary spending would be increased.
"It is very unpopular" among Democrats and LGBT members, he said.
Takano said House Republicans were "hypocrites" for criticizing President Barack Obama for not having a budget then refusing to reconcile their budget with the Senate budget, drafted by LGBT ally Patty Murray (D-Washington).
"The House Republicans are obstructionists and the source of government dysfunction," Takano said. Voters understand this and, he said, will vote for Democrats in 2014.
Another issue that works well for Democrats is the federal sequester, Takano said. "House-Senate budget talks, if we could have them, could create a way out of sequester."
"The sequester cuts will cause widespread pain and suffering in our community for the next 10 years," he said, but he was not optimistic it could be repealed in the short term. "It is a terrible way to govern."
Takano was critical of the administration’s proposed change to cost-of-living adjustments for LGBT elders and others on Social Security. Policy analysts, he said, argue COLAs should be based on a so-called chained-CPI which would lower future COLA increases.
"We must keep our nation’s promises to our seniors," Takano said. He said he would oppose any changes that would make seniors more vulnerable to inflation.
Voters will reject the GOP in 2014, Takano said, for many reasons including their anti-LGBT policy positions.
Takano had high praise for LGBT ally and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "She is a great and highly respected leader," he said.
Obama has worked to make government more inclusive and fair for LGBT professionals, Takano said. "Repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’" represented the administration’s commitment to end government’s "institutional discrimination," he said. Still, people have to be watchful and prepared to fight LGBT discrimination when it occurs, he added.
"Washington, D.C., is LGBT-dense," Takano said. He thinks this is because LGBTs want to be involved in the public policy process. LGBT people, he said, have "a deep yearning for justice and social change." He recommends young LGBT professionals pursue public service careers, "if that is their dream."
Takano said his staff is diverse. "My chief of staff, who is in charge of everyone, identifies as LGBT," he noted, referring to Richard McPike. He considers his press coverage fair. "I have not seen any undue ax-grinding," he said.
Takano, who is Japanese American, was asked if he liked to be referred to as a "gaysian." He laughingly replied, "It’s better than being referred to as a ’geisha.’" He said he wanted to be known as a "substantive legislator" and someone who was also Japanese American and gay.
"More diversity in Congress will produce better outcomes," he said.
One of his childhood heroes was liberal black Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Takano said. At 12, he was impressed by her questions during a televised House hearing on Watergate crimes. "She was an example of a minority in the highest levels of government." Her example "opened a sense of possibility for me," he said.