Meeting with Kathy Dahlkemper

By Dave Martin

Our Erie GLBT lobbying group of seven (Michael Mahler, John Max Irwin, Janice Hanusik, Laurie Finch, Richard McVay, C Michael, and David L Martin) met with newly elected Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper and her aide Dr Amy Cuzzola-Kern Ph.D at 1:30 PM on Friday, January 23, 2009. The meeting lasted about 40 minutes, during which we discussed potential legislation regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, hate crimes, military readiness, and Defense of Marriage Act.

Our objectives were: to continue the relationship and rapport the Erie’s GLBT community had developed with Congresswoman Dahlkemper during her campaign; to acquaint her with legislation that’s important to our community, to act as a resource for information on these bills as they are introduced, and to gain her support and encourage her to act as a co-sponsor of these bills.

Congresswoman Dahlkemper warmly welcomed us and seemed genuinely pleased that we were the very first group to meet with her since her swearing-in, and that made our meeting with her relaxed, pleasant, and productive.

In preparation for the meeting, we had circulated nine “Congratulations” cards on which we had collected hundreds of signatures from GLBTs and allies which we presented to her after the introductions were completed. She seemed genuinely pleased and appreciative.

We then turned to our four presenters who were all very well prepared on their individual topics using material research from the websites of The Task Force, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Equality Advocates of PA, Services Members Legal, and from the Human Rights Campaign as well as several other sources.

Thanks to the skills and passions of our lobbying group, the presentations went very, very well and were quite interactive, with Kathy and her aide frequently asking questions and adding supportive comments. It is worth noting that the most powerful elements in each of the presentations were the personal stories, the personal ‘face’ that the presenters wove into their presentations making the talking points and statistics from the web pages come alive and meaningful. One member of our group, for example, told the Congresswoman of the heavy financial burden that she and her partner face each month in paying the premiums for medical insurance denied to them by her employer who does not grant medical coverage to non-married partners. No statistics, no talking points from the web pages could speak so eloquently and persuasively to Mrs Dalhkemper as this heartfelt and emotional testimony which perfectly illustrated the need for legislation to repeal DOMA and ensure fairness and equality for GLBT partners.

After completing the presentations, we next asked Congresswoman Dahlkemper for her support for GLBT bills as they are introduced which she readily gave to us. We also handed to both Kathy and her aide folders containing our contact information as well as the talking points we had used during our presentations. Importantly, Congresswoman Dahlkemper asked us to keep her advised when bills were to be introduced and given a number since she thought we might get this information from the national GLBT organizations even before she got the information from her caucus. We promised to do so.

On our way out of her office one astute member of our group commented on a family photo standing on a bookshelf. Kathy immediately began naming the family members and giving us a brief description such as “this is my daughter who is in the Coast Guard and yes, she has told me of the unfairness of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.”

Without any doubt whatsoever, I believe Congresswoman Dahlkemper, PA 3rd District, “gets it” and will be a reliable and early supporter of GLBT legislation.

We concluded this wonderful meeting by dashing out to a florist shop to purchase a floral arrangement (under $50 per ethics regulations) and placing it prominently on her desk for the District Open House which was just getting under way.

Truly, a very successful lobbying day thanks to to receptiveness of Congresswoman Dahlkemper and her aide, Dr Cuzzola-Kern, as well as to the hard work and preparation of our grassroots lobbying team, and lastly, but importantly, thanks to the encouragement and guidance of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Chairman, Stephen Glassman.

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