U student, Clinton meetto discuss gay rights

Brett Knapp

A University student met with President Clinton yesterday to discuss hurdles that face gay, lesbian and bisexual youth.
Gary Schiff was one of about 20 people who met with the president for two hours Wednesday morning in the White House as a part of Clinton’s re-election effort.
President Clinton “spoke strongly about the need to stand up to divisive Republic tactics in the campaign — the tactics that try to scapegoat one American against the other,” Schiff said.
Schiff represented homosexual youth at a meeting of top Democratic leaders from around the country. Schiff, who will graduate in June with degrees in women’s studies and gay and lesbian studies, currently coordinates a training program for the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay-rights organization that advocates at the federal level. Schiff was a Daily columnist when he attended classes in the Twin Cities.
The training program will send gay youth to 13 states — including Minnesota — for three months leading up to November’s elections. The young people will help run campaigns for Democrats in those states. It will also give them campaign ideas if they eventually decide to run for office themselves, Schiff said.
Schiff, who has been in Washington, D.C., with the Human Rights Campaign since February, discussed with the president issues central to the gay community, including suicide prevention and same-sex marriage.
A recent move by congressional Republicans to discourage same-sex marriage laws, the proposed Defense of Marriage Act, was an example Clinton used in his discussion with the youth leaders, Schiff said. The act would deny federal recognition to same-sex marriages, and is sponsored in the Senate by Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.
Faced with a potentially volatile campaign issue if he supports the bill, Clinton has said he will sign the act if it passes Congress. “It’s the worst thing Clinton has done during his presidency,” Schiff said.
Clinton told Schiff the bill was part of a multi-pronged Republican strategy to force the president to take political stances which would divide Clinton’s support. “I think the president is wrong if he doesn’t veto it,” Schiff said of the bill.
Clinton was publicly opposed to gay marriages in his 1992 campaign, so his position isn’t actually a political flip-flop, Schiff said. However, Schiff still holds out a “small hope” that President Clinton would veto the Defense of Marriage Act if it passes through Congress.
Schiff told the president he is concerned that proposed legislation to ban same-sex marriages might open the door to bills discriminating against gays if passed.
“Congress has already attempted to ban federal funding to any school that has programs reaching out to gay and lesbian youth,” Schiff said.
Schiff said he asked the president to approve a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a commission on gay and lesbian youth suicide.
“During the Bush administration, a Health and Human Services report stated that the suicide rate for gay and lesbian youth was three times higher than that of their heterosexual peers,” Schiff said.
Schiff said he was impressed with Clinton’s attempt to personally respond to all the issues raised in the meeting.
“To speak with him one on one was amazingly refreshing,” Schiff said. “It was great to hear the words out of his own mouth and not from some spin doctors.”