Carmen Vazquez

(WOMENSENEWS)–LGBT stands for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgenders.

This election year, activists in this often fissured community say it also denotes a group that is more unified with the Democratic Party.

“Members of our community are unlikely to vote for Bush,” said Carmen Vazquez, the public policy director of the Empire State PrideAgenda, a New York City-based LGBT education andadvocacy organization. “Nearly everyone in the party has the same focus: beating Bush.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports 70 to 80 percent of gays and lesbians vote Democratic. Only African Americans more consistently support the party.

And, only senior citizens more commonly exercise their enfranchisement. The Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C., group that works for equality in marriage and in other areas for LGBTs, reports that 92 percent of the so-called queer community is registered to vote, more than half vote in every election and another third claim to vote in “most, but not all” elections.

Disagreements Common

However, lesbians and transgender don’t always see eye-to-eye with gay men, whom they sometimes accuse of exerting “male privilege”–namely, greater wealth and access to the professional networks men enjoy–and dominating LGBT organizations and issues.

Despite shared Democratic credentials, these groups sometimes part with heterosexual women as well, whom they sometimes perceive as benefiting from their place in the “dominant” culture.

But, says Melissa Sklarz, such divisions have been at least temporarily abandoned and she has “never seen such a unified Democratic Party.” Sklarz–a Manhattan judicial delegate Manhattan and New York State’s only transgendered elected official–is a vice-president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a Manhattan-based political club whose past officers include Deborah Glick and Thomas Duane, the first openly gay members of the New York City Council and State Senate.

Sklarz says civil rights issues such as the Patriot Act, which authorizes the government to search third-party holders of personal records, and the Bush administration’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, are also spurring LGBT voters to overlook differences with other voting blocs in response to a perceived common political antagonist.

Health Rights for Single People

As politically active women—all women–examine their access to federally subsidized health care, they begin to notice the inequities built into the Social Security system.

Sklarz argues that those who are defined as single–which, for the Federal Government and most states, includes members of same-sex couples–pay disproportionately during their working years into Social Security and Medicare funds. And, due to gender-based pay inequities, women’s monthly checks are on average about two-thirds as much as men’s. From these smaller Social Security checks, they must pay for prescription medications and other medical necessities Medicare doesn’t cover.

In addition, because lesbians and transgenders are unable to wed, they do not have access to higher Social Security benefits possibly earned by a deceased partner with a better-paying job.

Lesbians and transgender women are “coming of age,” Sklarz explains and are discovering they–along with other women–“serve the system, but it doesn’t serve them.”

Medicare Legislation Alarms

In addition, Sklarz says that no other issue is uniting diverse women to the same degree as health care. The new Medicare legislation–passed in January passed by slim majorities in the House and Senate–has stirred support among senior women for Kerry.

These critics say the legislation–which moves Medicare recipients into managed-care programs–believe it will require patients to pay more for doctors’ visits and treatments and limit choices in health-service providers.

Bush, in his March 15 address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, dismissed such claims: “An inherent part of the Medicare reform was to trust people with their decisions. And so you’ll see a much more vibrant private sector involved now, with the delivery of services to Medicare patients. “

Among Medicare clients, women–lesbian, transgender or heterosexual–disproportionately bear cost increases because they represent 58 percent of 65-year-old beneficiaries and 71 percent of 85-year-old recipients.

Because of Bush’s healthcare policies, Sklarz says she can bring “exactly the same messages, verbatim” to the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, the National Organization for Women, the Transgender Coalition and “all of the other organizations I’m involved with.”

Opposition to Faith-Based Health

Soon after taking office, Bush signed legislation that would redirect $80 billion in social and community service funds from secular to religious institutions by 2012.

Conservatives often argue that government agencies are ineffective in helping poor and otherwise disenfranchised people and that social services are better delivered by organizations that are called to do the work by their religious beliefs.

However, lesbians, transgenders, gay men and some heterosexual women–who are actively not welcomed by many religious organizations–disagree. Pregnant teens, single or divorced mothers, lesbians or transgenders may be unable to access social services delivered by conservative religious organizations.

Even when ecumenical or nonjudgmental religious organizations want to help, they may not have the knowledge or experience to properly serve the LGBT community, says Sean Cahill, public policy director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Particularly in rural areas, workers in churches may not know where to find medical or mental health professionals who understand the particular needs of lesbians and transgendered females.

Lesbians, for instance, are at greater risk than heterosexual women for breast cancer and transgenders need frequent blood tests if they are taking hormones.

Empire State Pride Agenda’s Vazquez points to the data that indicate that women–particularly lesbians and transgenders–are more likely to be uninsured and therefore more likely to need the services charitable institutions–secular or religious–provide.

In fact, lesbians and transgenders may need to rely on government insurance more often than the general population. A joint study by the San Francisco-based Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, published in 2000, said that many gays and lesbians are self-employed, and–while reliable statistics are not available–LGBT unemployment rates apparently equal or exceed those of the general population.

The unemployed typically lose health insurance they had from former employers. In similar situations are recently-widowed and divorced women who’ve lost their former spouse’s coverage and legions of single women whose employers don’t provide benefits.

“Most people can’t afford health insurance unless their employers can pay for it or a spouse has it,” Vazquez says.

She believes–reflecting the views of many LGBTs–that faith-based initiatives operate from a similar underlying premise to the changes in Medicare and the features in the Defense of Marriage Act:

“This administration is telling us we don’t need healthcare, jobs or education; we need a man.”

Justine Nicholas made her debut on Women’s eNews last fall with her personal essay, “Changing Genders Without Changing Jobs.” In addition to writing and teaching, she is an active volunteer for women’s and LGBT causes.

For more information:

Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats:

Human Rights Campaign:

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

Women’s eNews–
“Changing Gender Without Changing Jobs”: