ALL OUT POLITICS
In 2007, a supremely confident cadre of Democratic politicos in Washington had a dream and great hope that a war-weary nation was ready to share their dream of making Senator Hilary Clinton America’s first woman president.
But another Democratic senator, whose political brand has forever claimed the words “hope” and “supreme confidence” as his personal trademarks, interrupted that dream with one momentous realization of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King III’s own legendary dream.
Stampp Corbin, co-chair of Obama for America 2008’s LGBT Leadership Council, was an integral part of the team that made Senator Barack Obama the next president of the United States that year. To this day, Corbin, publisher of LGBT Weekly, provides valued counsel to the president on LGBT issues.
In 429Magazine’s Q&A with Stampp Corbin, we seek the origins of this noted firebrand’s reputation for tough, confrontational approaches to the problem of discrimination against LGBT Americans.
429Magazine: How much of a political animal is Stampp Corbin?
Stampp Corbin: I am quite the political animal. It all started in Chicago when I worked on my first political campaign at the age of 12 for a local alderman. Nothing but stuffing envelopes and distributing literature but it was a start. Of course, as I got older I became involved in the LGBT political movement when I got involved with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT education and lobbying group. Ultimately, I became chair of the finance committee for the board of directors, a position I held for five years.
In 2007, I decided to help out the Obama presidential campaign by being the Co-Chair of the National LGBT Leadership Council. I felt a personal connection to the Obamas because Michelle grew up in my neighborhood and also was a classmate of mine at Whitney Young High School: She was freshman; I was a senior.
429Mag: What is your political affiliation and ideological bent?
Corbin: I am a democrat through and through. How could I not be? I am a gay African American man and the only party that seems to speak to my concerns and issues are the democrats. While there are democrats who are not for LGBT rights, the vast majority is and the party platform reflects that. Just a few weeks ago the Republican national Committee reaffirmed their stance against same sex marriage that alone assures they will not get my vote. You couple that position with the republican stance on women’s rights, immigration reform, gun control and support for education and there you have it, I am a democrat.
429Mag: When did you first hear the name Barack Obama?
Corbin: I heard his name from my mother when Obama was doing political organizing on the south side of Chicago. My mother and stepfather were also community organizers through their church and the Million Man Ministries, Obama came to speak to one of my parent’s groups before he ran for Illinois State Senate. Needless to say, my parents were duly impressed.
429Mag:What was your first impression of him?
Corbin: I first met Barack Obama in his senate office in early 2007 when I visited to express my desire to be involved in his campaign surrounding LGBT issues. It was completely by chance that I got to meet him because I was meeting with one of his aides. When the aide was escorting me out of the office, who walks up but the man himself. We talked briefly about Chicago and the fact that I was an alumnus from Michelle’s high school, as well as a fellow Harvard alum – I from the Business school and he from the law school. We then briefly discussed my desire to help him with national LGBT issues. We said our goodbyes and as he walked away Obama said to his aide make sure Stampp is on the team.
429Mag: Did you consider supporting Hilary in ’08?
Corbin: I was asked by some of the key leadership to join Hilary’s team but I knew my family would never forgive me if I didn’t support the hometown girl and her husband. I think Hilary will make a great president and hope to join her team for the 2016 election.
429Mag: Tell me about how you came to be campaign co-chair for Sen. Obama?
Corbin: When I joined the campaign, there was not even an agenda with respect to LGBT issues. There was basically a young campaign aide and I setting the agenda. We recruited people to join the leadership team, for example I recruited my Co-chair Donna Red Wing, a nationally recognized LGBT activist. I also brought on San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, among many others. Since most LGBT people were aligned behind Hilary, leadership was needed to get Obama’s positive message out and I stepped forward. one of my biggest accomplishments was ensuring that the Obama campaign used LGBT instead of gay or LGBT. Now LGBT is the term the White House generally uses in press releases, etc. Unfortunately, the press and White House press spokespeople still revert to old habits.
429Mag: Let’s go back in time. Who was Stampp Corbin, circa 1982? What was he doing and how was he doing it?
Corbin: I had just graduated from Stanford University and had been accepted to Harvard Business School. I elected to defer admission and work for two years, to my parents’ delight. I moved from Northern California to Newport Beach and began a sales job with IBM. Back then, the IBM training program was a year long and I was put in what was the called the Executive Identification Program.
429Mag: Fast forward to the late 1980s and early ’90s, please. Was that when you founded RetroBox?
Corbin: I founded RetroBox in 1996, it is the company that nationalized the information technology disposal industry. In fact, the concepts I developed became the national standards. if I had been smarter I would have legally protected my concepts through intellectual property law but the concept of that was really still developing.
429Mag: How did you get involved with HRC(F)?
Corbin: I had volunteered for a dinner when I lived in Boston several times but when I moved from Boston to LA in 1991, I started becoming more involved. I took over a company in Columbus, Ohio in 1992, so I was commuting from LA to Columbus frequently. Elisabeth Birch, former HRC executive director, was in Columbus on a fundraising visit and she came to my offices. Initially, Elizabeth and I clicked, so I joined the HRC Board of Directors.
429Mag: Were you a part of building what became HRC’s political influence?
Corbin: I would not be so presumptuous as to say that. I will say that the organization really came in to its own during my tenure on the board. There were outstanding staff members who could execute, as well as intelligent, engaged board members, like Terry Bean, Hillary Rosen, Fred Hochberg and many others. I was considered by many as the board member that was not a “Birch Davidian,” those who blindly followed everything that Executive Director Elizabeth Birch wanted.
429Mag:Were there any missteps along the way to HRC’s current political stature?
Corbin: Of course. Any organization that has tens of millions of dollars in revenue makes missteps. A good board member only reveals those things that are relevant, nothing comes to mind that had a long-term impact on the organizational effectiveness. There were a lot of debates about strategy, and a lot of education about particular issues, but ultimately HRC has been extremely effective.
429Mag: What lessons were learned?
Corbin: I think the lesson I learned was when you are part of a large national organization, there is no right or wrong answer. You can only make a decision based upon the information at hand. Later you may get additional information that may have made you make a different decision, but sometimes if you do that, you have decision paralysis waiting for more information. Often, then the opportunity is lost or the political climate has moved on.
429Mag: Going forward, what should HRC’s political goals be for the rest of this decade?
Corbin: After marriage is granted in California in June and DOMA is overturned? The focus should be helping LGBT people who live in states that have horribly bigoted and discriminatory laws, whether that is fighting in the courts or at the ballot box. Our time is now.
429Mag: Who are the LGBT community’s worst three enemies in congress?
Corbin: Speaker John Boehner, Congressman Eric Cantor, Senator Mitch McConnell.
429Mag: Our best allies?
Corbin: President Obama, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Most democratic congress people.
429Mag: What’s most important after marriage equality – ENDA?
Corbin: Yes, the ability to go to work and express your sexual orientation or gender identity is critical to move this country forward. Straight people take this right for granted. Wouldn’t it be interesting if an LGBT employer fired a person for being straight, I can only imagine the political uproar. LGBT people need workplace protections immediately. It is one of the reasons so many people do not come out; economic security.
429Mag: Any predictions regarding SCOTUS’ DOMA and Prop. 8 decisions?
Corbin: Both will come down in our favor. We will be able to get married in California and the federal government will recognize same sex marriages. This is an internally consistent set of decisions; it is all about state’s rights and the federal government recognizing the ability of a state to establish marriage laws. Now that pesky full faith and credit issue will probably be argued again at a later date once more state approve same sex marriage.