post-kennedy

Is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Your Next Civil Rights Hero?

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It’s a loaded question, we’ll admit that. But since taking over Hillary Clinton‘s U.S. Senate seat, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has not been silent on LGBT rights. Whatever her legislative legacy becomes — will she help kill DADT? DOMA? — she will be known for this Ted Kennedy-esque quality: Continuing to speak up in America’s most powerful circles about a group of people still treated as second-class.

Gillibrand was immediately welcomed by gay rights organizations, despite a Congressional record that didn’t exactly match her self-professed unrequited support for the Gs. But now that she’s in the Senate, she’s leading the charge to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She’s calling for the repeal of DOMA, along with her Senate colleagues. She’s championing ENDA. She might have even had a part in helping colleague Sen. Chuck Schumer come around on gay marriage and DOMA. (Okay, it also helps that Clinton — not a full gay rights supporter — is no longer running for president.) And in this interview with Towleroad at the LGBT Community Center event in NYC over the weekend, she says she’s on board with amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gays in an all-encompassing anti-discrimination bill. (At the same event, she told a bi-national couple that she’s on board with including the Uniting American Families Act in current immigration reform.)

With Sen. Kennedy’s death, we are without a Senate stalwart to apply continued pressure on the White House to simply do what’s right. Gillibrand, as a junior senator, does not carry that influence. And facing re-election in 2010, it’s possible her efforts could end in the next 12 months. But if we must be without Kennedy in what we hope is the last throws of this civil rights struggle, having Gillibrand on board as an ally isn’t a terrible position to be in.

But perhaps her greatest asset, particularly if Washington places her in the backseat of power circles? That she keeps talking, and talking, and talking about us.