dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson

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Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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Media Adviser to Hillary Clinton in 1999: "Be Careful to Be Real"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 3:41 PM EST

In 1999, as former First Lady Hillary Clinton was preparing to run for US Senator in New York, she was coached by Mandy Grunwald, a public relations consultant who also served as media adviser for Clinton's subsequent presidential campaign, before a speech. Back then, Grunwald had some words of wisdom for Clinton, who is now considered front runner for the Democrat's 2016 presidential nomination: "Be careful to be real." This is one of eight pieces of advice included in a July 1999 letter released today as part of a trove of documents from the Bill Clinton Administration.

Some of these tips could still be applicable for Clinton in 2016, if she chooses to run: "Don't assume anyone knows anything about you...New Yorkers generally know about healthcare, your work for children, and then a lot of tabloid junk." Here are the other tips: 

 

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Disney World Cuts Off Boy Scouts Funding, Allegedly Over Anti-Gay Policies

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 11:43 AM EST

Walt Disney has booted the Boy Scouts out of the Magic Kingdom, allegedly due to the national organization's discriminatory policies against gay members. Although the Boy Scouts began welcoming gay scouts in January, it dispels these members after they turn 18, banning them, as well as gay parents, from leading troops and packs. Florida-based Walt Disney World, the latest company to stop giving money to Boy Scouts in recent years, said that it cut off funding because the organization's "views" do not align with theirs, according to a letter sent from the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to the state's scout leaders and parents. 

"In losing this grant money...we may have to cut back on activities, delay replacing aging equipment, or reduce 'high-adventure' camping. Unless the families can make up the difference, we will have reduced experiences for the boys available," said a Florida pack and troop leader, who wished to remain anonymous because of potential retaliation from the local scouting community. "My kids are losing money solely based on National BSA's moral judgment against gay people. It's not what I believe or teach my kids. Discrimination is not what we practice as a local scout unit." 

Walt Disney World did not provide financial support to the national BSA council, but it did give grants to local scouting troops through a program called, "Ears to You," in which employees do volunteer work, and, in return, the company gives money to a charity of the employee's choice. The Florida scout leader told Mother Jones that many members of the Florida scouting community participate in this program, and some units were receiving up to $6,000 per year. 

According to the letter sent by the BSA Central Florida Council, the national leadership of BSA reached out to Walt Disney World to address the dropped funding, but the company said that their "views do not currently align with the BSA and they are choosing to discontinue this level of support." Walt Disney World did not respond to comment as to whether those views specifically refer to the Scouts' LGBT policy, and BSA spokesman Deron Smith declined to comment on the rationale. But Brad Hankins, a spokesman for Scouts for Equality, which advocates for equal LGBT rights, said the group believes it's over BSA's anti-gay policy: "Beyond the membership policies, what other views does the BSA hold that are controversial?" According to its Standards of Business Conduct, Disney World permits no discrimination based on "sex, sexual orientation [and] gender identification" among its employees. 

Smith, the Boy Scouts spokesman, did confirm that Walt Disney World has suddenly stopped providing these grants. "We believe every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of the Scouting experience and we are disappointed in this decision because it will impact our ability to serve kids," he said. Many other companies have stopped funding BSA recently over its anti-gay policy, including Lockheed Martin and UPS. 
 

According to Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality, it's not the famous theme park that's hurting the scouts—it's the Boy Scouts' discriminatory policies. "We’re never happy to see scouting suffer as a result of the BSA’s anti-gay policy," he said, "but Disney made the right decision to withhold support until Scouting is fully inclusive." The Florida scout leader agrees: "Because of the national decision to deny leadership opportunities to gay adults, my kids and other local units near Disney are penalized. If I were the decision-maker at Disney, I think I would make the same decision." 

 

Georgia Lawmakers Want to Allow Businesses to Kick Gay People Out of Diners

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 6:44 PM EST

Update, February 28, 2014: State representative Sam Teasley, the first sponsor listed on the bill, told Mother Jones that he has taken the controversial language out of the bill, so that it is now identical to the longstanding federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He wrote, "After introducing the bill, a number of citizens expressed concerns that the language could be construed in a way that might encourage discrimination. I do not believe that the bill as introduced does that. It was most certainly not my intent and frankly, as a man of faith, that would be inconsistent with what my faith teaches me. My faith teaches that all people, regardless of belief system, are to be treated with dignity and respect."​ The Senate version of the Georgia bill has reportedly been taken off of the calendar. 

A bill moving swiftly through the Georgia House of Representatives would allow business owners who believe homosexuality is a sin to openly discriminate against gay Americans by denying them employment or banning them from restaurants and hotels.

The proposal, dubbed the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, would allow any individual or for-profit company to ignore Georgia laws—including anti-discrimination and civil rights laws—that "indirectly constrain" exercise of religion. Atlanta, for example, prohibits discrimination against LGBT residents seeking housing, employment, and public accommodations. But the state bill could trump Atlanta's protections.

The Georgia bill, which was introduced last week and was scheduled to be heard in subcommittee Monday afternoon, was sponsored by six state representatives (some of them Democrats). A similar bill has been introduced in the state Senate.

The Georgia House bill's text is largely identical to controversial legislation that passed in Arizona last week. The Arizona measure—which is currently awaiting Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's signature—has drawn widespread protests from LGBT groups and local businesses. One lawmaker who voted for the Arizona bill, Sen. Steve Pierce (R-Prescott), went so far as to publicly change his mind. 

Georgia and Arizona are only the latest states to push religious freedom bills that could nullify discrimination laws. The new legislation is part of a wave of state laws drafted in response to a New Mexico lawsuit in which a photographer was sued for refusing to work for a same-sex couple.

Unlike similar bills introduced in Kansas, Tennessee, and South Dakota, the Georgia and Arizona bills do not explicitly target same-sex couples. But that difference could make the impact of the Georgia and Arizona bills even broader. Legal experts, including Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, warn that Georgia and Arizona's religious-freedom bills are so sweeping that they open the door for discrimination against not only gay people, but other groups as well. The New Republic noted that under the Arizona bill, "a restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus, or Muslims."

"The government should not allow individuals or corporations to use religion as an excuse to discriminate [or] to deny other access to basic healthcare and safety precautions," Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote in a letter to a Georgia House Judiciary subcommittee on Sunday.

State representative Sam Teasley, the first sponsor listed on the bill, did not respond to request for comment Monday.

"The bill was filed and is being pushed solely because that's what all the cool conservative kids are doing, and because it sends a message of defiance to those who believe that gay Americans ought to be treated the same as everybody else," writes Jay Bookman, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Passing it would seriously stain the reputation of Georgia and the Georgia Legislature."

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