Rep. Adam Schiff Wants to be a Leader on LGBT Rights
Karen Ocamb

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reads a list of names of people attending the third annual City Hall/Christopher Street West-sponsored L.A. Pride Garden Party at the mayor’s Getty House mansion. “And Congressman Adam Schiff is here.”

“Where?” someone calls out.

“I don’t know. He’s on the list,” Villaraigosa says, looking around. “There he is—Adam Schiff, my brother!’

The slight man in a perfectly pressed preppy shirt and pants eases eagerly but gracefully through the crowd in the hot afternoon, extending his hand, greeting people—genuinely happy to be at the LGBT party.

Schiff, a Massachusetts-born Democrat who has been in Congress for about 10 years, currently represents Burbank, Glendale and the Pasadena area. He is running for re-election to the newly redrawn 28th Congressional District that now extends from Echo Park and Silver Lake through Hollywood and West Hollywood.

“While I’m not a household name, I’ve been doing good work on behalf of the LGBT community,” Schiff tells Frontiers during an hour-plus interview at The Abbey on June 2.

He notes that when he was in the California state Senate in 1997, he was the swing vote on Assemblymember Carole Migden’s domestic partnership bill. Martin Luther King Jr.’s anti-gay niece led a protest march against Schiff in his district. Undeterred, Schiff opposed the anti-gay marriage Knight Initiative soon thereafter. When in Congress, he supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and was an original co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act. He has been a co-sponsor of the Uniting Families Act for years.  He’s also fought for “important priorities” such as PepFAR and the Global AIDS Initiative.

Now, he says, “I want to take more of a leadership role, absolutely.”  

Part of the challenge is dealing with a Republican majority that’s “fairly hostile” to progressive legislation such as immigration reform.

“But we’ve been sitting down with leadership from some of the LGBT organizations to try to identify where are the voids, where are the areas where we can really take a laboring oar and try to move forward with a very positive agenda,” Schiff says.

Two of the groups with whom Schiff has met are AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Human Rights Campaign. On June 4, Schiff attended the farewell party for Chad Griffin at Rob Reiner’s house on the eve of Griffin becoming the new president of HRC, and the two agreed to work together.

Schiff is concerned about funding both the global and domestic response to AIDS. “Through a time of declining budgets—and, in particular, our foreign assistance programs—maintaining funding is not an easy undertaking,” he says. “We need to fight to make sure that all the needs of the community continue to be met. I don’t think the need for Ryan White is going to evaporate with the passage of health care reform.”

Additionally, there are terrible inequities. “When you look at some of the Medi-Cal and Medicaid restrictions and how people who are under Medicare need to become ill before they can get help or treatment—that’s just crazy! It’s unethical, it’s immoral and it also makes no fiscal sense. Those are problems we can and should address now.”

Schiff says he is encouraged “that we see increasing numbers of GOP members as either lead sponsors or co-sponsors on some pivotal legislative efforts. Just look at the overall trend in the country of the mushrooming support for gay marriage.”

Even if Democrats don’t retake Congress, Schiff says, “we need to put our heads together, strategize, figure out what legislative issues we can nonetheless make progress on, what can be undertaken by administrative action alone. So there’s plenty of work to do.”

Schiff says he supports an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal contracts.

“I would encourage the administration to adopt an administrative policy that it will not contract with companies that don’t have an ENDA (workplace nondiscrimination) policy,” Schiff says. “And I will work my colleagues to generate a letter of support from members of Congress urging the administration to do exactly that. I think that makes all the sense in the world and—given the inaction of Congress on ENDA, which I’m proud to co-sponsor—we need to look to every other avenue we can to advance the policy of nondiscrimination. I want [Schiff’s lesbian niece] to have every job opportunity as everyone else.”

Schiff says a lot of his views “are informed by what I’ve seen in my own family. My first cousin and his partner have been raising two wonderful children. Their partnership and their family has been together as long as my own. They should have the right to the same legal recognition that my wife and I do.” 

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