Gay Activists at the DNC: Happy With Obama, Anxious About Romney

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ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

Delegates from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and a gay supporter wave flags at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012 on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

As the first battalion of speakers readied for the convention spotlight on Tuesday night, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender delegates, politicians and activists mingled in a dark restaurant a few blocks away. The Human Rights Campaign held an informal reception for the gay-rights advocates, who applauded Barack Obama for progress he has made on their issues. “He’s done more than any other President in history,” said transgender rights activist Mara Keisling, “and nobody’s in second place.” Still, the LGBT to-do list isn’t complete, and the prospect of a Mitt Romney presidency made them worry for the victories they had won so far.

Attendees reeled off political points of pride like the alphabet: there was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” a new law prohibiting hate crimes; protection for transgender individuals under Title VII; the Administration’s campaign against bullying; and, of course, Obama’s personal endorsement of gay marriage. A few people expressed impatience, but most shrugged off any questions about Obama’s pace on LGBT issues with platitudes about things taking time.

(PHOTOS: The Democratic National Convention)

When asked what was left to be done, Rep. Barney Frank–a gay congressman from Massachusetts who attended the reception–pointed to two main issues: the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act–a measure Rep. Paul Ryan once voted for that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on sexual identity—and legalizing gay marriage, whether through Congress, the Supreme Court or state legislatures. “Prejudice against us has been diminishing rapidly within the general population,” Frank said. “Reality defeats prejudice.”

Republicans have a different perception of that reality, of course, as expressed in the platform that they adopted last week at their own convention. It affirmed state and federal government rights not to recognize same-sex marriage and backed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The new Democratic platform meanwhile endorses the non-discrimination act, supports “marriage equality” and calls for the repeal DOMA.

(PHOTOS: The Obama Brand)

Frank warned that a Romney presidency would be disastrous for gay rights. “It’ll mean absolutely no advances. It’ll mean Supreme Court justices who will go backwards,” he said, “and he might reinstate ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” But many attendees were more optimistic. “It also takes time to undo things, and I’m not sure Romney would care,” said Dana Beyer, a Maryland delegate who identifies as transgender. “In the U.S., we expand civil rights, we don’t restrict them.”