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Gephardt meets with homosexuals in bid to regain House for Democrats

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton is not the only high-ranking officeholder reaching out to homosexual rights supporters in recent weeks.
Less than two weeks before Clinton’s historic speech at a homosexual rights dinner, House of Representatives Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., met with leaders of eight of the movement’s political organizations. The meeting was reported by The Washington Blade, a homosexual-oriented weekly newspaper in the nation’s capital, and confirmed to Baptist Press by a Gephardt spokesman.
The House minority leader called the meeting as part of his attempt to build coalitions in the Democrats’ effort to regain a House majority in the 1998 elections. Gephardt believes homosexual groups are “a crucial part” of a winning coalition, a spokesman in his office said, according to The Blade.
At the Human Rights Campaign’s first national dinner Nov. 8, Clinton became the first president to address a homosexual rights event. The president said discrimination based on “sexual orientation” should be outlawed and reaffirmed his support for the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would grant civil rights status in the workplace to homosexuality in the same way it is already given to classifications such as race and gender. Homosexuals strongly supported Clinton in both the 1992 and ’96 elections.
Gephardt has given indications he may mount a campaign to challenge Vice President Al Gore, the current front-runner, for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Both have been reaching out to homosexuals.
Clinton, Gore and Gephardt are all members of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has approved several resolutions deploring homosexuality as sin and affirming the biblical message of forgiveness and change for homosexuals through Jesus.
“In Clinton, Gore and Gephardt, you have three major political leaders who are much more likely to take their cues from the bankrupt values of the entertainment industry than they are from the biblical values of the church,” said Will Dodson, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “On the homosexuality issue, they seem to care much more about what ‘Ellen’ thinks than the Apostle Paul and the prophets of the Old Testament.”
In a mid-October speech to the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, Gore lauded the ABC/Disney television show “Ellen” for the episode in which its lead character announced her homosexuality. When the “coming-out” episode was shown in the spring, “millions of Americans were forced to look at sexual orientation in a more open light,” Gore said.
A particularly significant development at the Oct. 29 meeting in Gephardt’s office, said a representative from one of the homosexual organizations, was the minority leader’s commitment that homosexual congressional candidates next year will be supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to The Blade. So far, three open lesbians have expressed interest in running for congressional seats, The Blade reported.
Other issues discussed, according to the newspaper, included AIDS concerns and attempted passage of ENDA.
When asked by Baptist Press if Gephardt’s meeting with homosexual leaders might cause problems with other constituencies, assistant press secretary Eric Smith said the congressman “doesn’t have any such concern. Mr. Gephardt speaks to many special interest groups. There’s a broad coalition of people represented in the Democratic Party. Mr. Gephardt doesn’t believe you should shut the door on anyone.”
Among organizations represented at the meeting with Gephardt were the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign, which is the country’s largest homosexual political group.
In April, The Washington Times reported Gore had held a series of meetings with homosexual leaders in his office. The vice president has “an open door where gays and lesbians can express their concerns,” a Gore spokesperson told The Times.
Gephardt was host at a fund-raiser for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund March 31 in Los Angeles, according to The Times.