DENVER " Gay and lesbian Democrats are gathering early to prepare a strategy for next week's convention, and their marching orders are the same for all states: Make sure other delegates know who you are and what gay voters want this fall.
The Stonewall Democrats started a four-day "boot camp" in Denver Thursday. At the top of their agenda for the convention, which starts Monday, are pushing Democrats to fight proposed gay-marriage bans in three states and passing federal anti-discrimination laws.
With a record 370 lesbian, gay and transgendered delegates to this year's convention, Stonewall Democrats say they're primed to drive Democrats' plans more than ever before. The number of gay delegates is up almost 100 from 2004, and they now make up some 6 percent of all delegates. Only two states " Nebraska and North Dakota " won't send any openly gay delegates.
Stonewall Democrats spokesman John Marble said the No. 1 message of gay delegates should be that a gay-friendly agenda from Democrats will help the party as a whole. The group will argue that opposing anti-gay-rights measures on ballots in Arizona, California and Florida will help Democratic fortunes in all races in November.
"It's something our nominee should feel comfortable talking about," said Ann Baker, a Stonewall Democrat from Roosevelt, N.J.
One topic not on the table next week: a federal gay marriage push. The Democratic nominee-in-waiting, Sen. Barack Obama, has said he favors civil unions but not gay marriage, and Stonewall Democrats are unlikely to push party delegates to call for federal marriage equality.
"Culturally, we're not there," said Barbra Casbar, a transgendered delegate to this year's convention. She said Stonewall Democrats aren't angered by Obama's stance, saying the more important priority is to make personal connections with straight Democrats.
Diego Sanchez, a transgendered delegate from Boston, said Stonewall Democrats have wide-ranging priorities, and that nondiscrimination legislation should be tops for Democrats seeking gay votes.
"We're concerned about our right to be able to work," said Sanchez, who has attended every Democratic convention since 1988 but is only this year a delegate.
Stonewall Democrats say their greater number at this year's convention shows they're a higher priority for the party.
Scheduled to address Stonewall Democrats this weekend are Democratic Govs. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.
Gay Republicans are putting together a "Big Tent Event" during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis next month.
Log Cabin Republican President Patrick Sammon says there's fresh optimism among gay Republicans that they'll have a bigger influence of their party at this year's convention, though they haven't announced who will meet with them.
"We have our strongest presence ever at a Republican convention" with about two dozen delegates, Sammon said. "We are there to talk about why the party needs to be more inclusive" and push Republicans to avoid "socially divisive issues" such as same-sex marriage.