Lining Up Gay Voters Behind a Clinton Presidency

Lisa Changadveja is LGBT Americans director at Ready for Hillary, a group urging Hillary Rodham Clinton to run for president.  
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Oct. 30, 2013, 12:52 p.m.

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton has not said wheth­er she will run for pres­id­ent in 2016, but the pro­spect of the first fe­male pres­id­ent has spawned an in­de­pend­ent su­per PAC in her name. Ready for Hil­lary, which opened its doors in Janu­ary, has hired con­stitu­ency dir­ect­ors to mo­bil­ize every slice of the lib­er­al spec­trum, in­clud­ing the LGBT com­munity.

“This is a per­son­al thing,” said Lisa Changad­veja, who was named LGBT Amer­ic­ans dir­ect­or and is gay her­self. “If Hil­lary does de­cide to run, she’ll have LGBT lead­ers ready to stand by her as sup­port­ers, donors, and hard-work­ing vo­lun­teers.”

Changad­veja poin­ted to three in­stances in which the pre­sumptive can­did­ate has proven her gay-rights bona fides. In 2000, Clin­ton be­came the first first lady to march in a gay-pride parade. (She has marched in sev­er­al gay-pride parades since then.)

As sec­ret­ary of State, Clin­ton de­livered a speech at the United Na­tions in which she equated gay rights with hu­man rights. “Like be­ing a wo­man, like be­ing a ra­cial, re­li­gious, tri­bal, or eth­nic minor­ity, be­ing LGBT does not make you less hu­man,” she de­clared. “And that is why gay rights are hu­man rights, and hu­man rights are gay rights.”

Fi­nally, Clin­ton for the first time en­dorsed gay mar­riage earli­er this year. “I sup­port it per­son­ally and as a mat­ter of policy and law, em­bed­ded in a broad­er ef­fort to ad­vance equal­ity and op­por­tun­ity for LGBT Amer­ic­ans and all Amer­ic­ans,” she said at the time.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 92 per­cent of LGBT Amer­ic­an adults say so­ci­ety has be­come more ac­cept­ing of them in the past dec­ade. One reas­on: gay-rights ad­vocacy by pub­lic fig­ures. That same poll, which was re­leased in June, asked re­spond­ents to identi­fy pub­lic fig­ures who had ad­vanced the cause of gay Amer­ic­ans. Twenty-three per­cent named Pres­id­ent Obama, 18 per­cent named comedi­enne El­len De­Generes, and 3 per­cent named Clin­ton. (Apart from Obama and De­Generes, no one else was named by more than 3 per­cent of re­spond­ents.)

Non­ethe­less, Changad­veja in­sists that the LGBT com­munity is en­thu­si­ast­ic about the pro­spect of a Clin­ton pres­id­ency. At a re­cent LGBT rally in Or­lando, 900 people signed up for emails from Ready for Hil­lary in a single day. “Hil­lary has been a long­time friend of the LGBT com­munity,” says Changad­veja, who took a leave of ab­sence while in col­lege to help with Clin­ton’s first pres­id­en­tial run. “They have a lot of love for her.”

Changad­veja, who is of Thai her­it­age, grew up in Helen, Ga., 90 miles north of At­lanta. The sci­ence-fic­tion buff, who can re­cite snatches of dia­logue from Star Trek and Battle­star Gal­lactica, vo­lun­teered for John Kerry’s 2004 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign and worked on the suc­cess­ful 2006 reelec­tion bid of Ore­gon’s then-Gov. Ted Ku­lon­goski, a Demo­crat. In 2007, Changad­veja tem­por­ar­ily with­drew from Brenau Uni­versity in Gaines­ville, Ga., to join Clin­ton’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. She was still a teen­ager at the time.

Changad­veja has been openly gay for 10 years. She cred­its re­cent ad­vances in gay rights — like the Su­preme Court’s de­cision earli­er this year to strike down the De­fense of Mar­riage Act — to evolving so­cial norms and the di­li­gence of gay-rights act­iv­ists. “It’s amaz­ing to see how far the LGBT needle has moved in the last dec­ade.”

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