Thanks to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for inviting ThinkProgress to report live from its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Day Celebration.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is a passionate advocate for LGBT rights and is unabashed in saying so. At Tuesday night’s celebration for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Coons described the repeal as “one of the biggest steps forward we’ve made toward equality.” But, he was also mindful that there are unresolved issues, such as health care, pensions, and benefits, that must be addressed to ensure full equality for gays and lesbians in the service. He also expressed support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, but expects that the next bill the Senate will pass for LGBT rights will be Sen. Al Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act, which Coons is cosponsoring.
Coons said he thinks the Republican leadership is out of touch on LGBT issues, and he worries they will use “gay bashing and gay-baiting” to drive a wedge in the 2012 election:
FORD: What impact do you think that conservative rhetoric… is having on our nation’s young people?
COONS: I frankly think they profoundly misread the young people of America, who are far more open and tolerant, welcoming, and inclusive than generations before them, particularly around LGBT issues. I think they miss what is a basic cultural shift in the direction of tolerance, and it’s my hope that, as happened in the 2008 campaign — where youth voters really led the way in terms of breaking barriers — that we’ll see the same thing, a rejection by younger voters, more educated and more engaged voters, of gay bashing or gay-baiting, which I’m afraid may actually end up being an essential issue or central values issue in the 2012 election.
Still, he is optimistic that Republicans will remember their history of supporting social justice:
FORD: Do you think we’ll see any of your Republican colleagues ever make an “It Gets Better” video?
COONS: I hope so. You know, there is a long, proud Republican tradition of being engaged in the fight for civil rights… So it’s my hope that we will see one someday. So far, it’s disappointing, but I’m optimistic that change will come, even in the Republican party, even in the current environment.