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Dear Madam Speaker- Equal treatment can wait no longer

Whether reviled or celebrated in the headlines, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has long relied on her trusty LGBT base for unconditional support. Even through her high profile, all-too-public spat with CIA Director Leon Panetta over her alleged knowledge of the Bush Administration’s use of torture tactics, or her permissive inclusion of the anti-choice Stupak-Pitts Amendment in the House’s health care bill, Pelosi is still perceived as a firebrand liberal by LGBT loyalists. But as Speaker of the House, she has a duty to maintain or grow her Party’s majority, vowing privately in 2010 to stymie further movement on “controversial” issues unless the Senate preempts her, according to recent reports. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?

So what has Madam Speaker deemed controversial? Might the repeals of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, or employment protections for LGBT workers fit that category? Or will House leadership decide instead to jettison the legislative priorities of key allies like organized labor and advocates of immigrant rights? Few know the answer, leaving Pelosi’s base of power on edge.

But before worry sets in about the viability of pending LGBT legislation, let us reflect on the good year we’ve had: Enactment of the James Byrd Jr. & Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act – check; Lifting the HIV/AIDS Travel Ban – done; Reauthorizing the Ryan White Care Act – in the bag; Likely passage of the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act before the year’s end – confidently optimistic; Crafting a healthcare reform bill that reflects the needs of the LGBT community – stay tuned.

These victories however, did not materialize without a fight. With less resources and much heart, the LGBT community found the strength to pressure lawmakers all year long to do the right thing. Get your rest over the holiday season, because next year will require much of the same if not more.

Thankfully we have Congressmembers Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis on the inside, hopeful that the Military Readiness Enhancement Act will pass through the Defense appropriations process no later than March and that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will be enacted before the June midterm elections.

But if healthcare reform fails to cross the finish line this year, lawmakers will be in a foul mood to expend what little political capital they have left on us. The silver lining lies ahead in the next few weeks and months, as they will be critical in the rebound of our economic track, the revamp of our health care system, and consequently the state of our civil rights.

A decrease in unemployment and expansion of access to health care are positive signs for our community, since such wins will provide the political leeway for lawmakers to act on our issues, having hard populist victories on which to campaign in their districts, thereby drowning out right-wing attacks for their support of the LGBT community.

As for Speaker Pelosi, remind her colleagues Congressmembers Bob Filner and Susan Davis that equal protection can wait no longer, and demand that they act on our issues next year, even if the Senate chooses otherwise.

Contact Congressmembers Filner and Davis by visiting www.house.gov/filner and www.house.gov/susandavis.