“Change” is just a buzzword for LGBT people

Originally posted on The Bilerico Project by IN LA magazine editor Karen Ocamb.

Change? Bah, humbug.

When I watched John Kerry endorse Barack Obama, I couldn’t help but think: “Here we go, again.”

Kerry was the Vietnam war hero turned anti-war hero who threw gays under the bus to get elected in 2004.

And we relented, not wanting to upset Democratic Party big-whigs like Bill Clinton who made it sound like we were the ones who brought on the anti-gay marriage initiatives in eleven states that year. They passed, Kerry lost, and we were blamed. By the way, has either Bill or Hillary Clinton ever confirmed that Bill Clinton advised Kerry to support the anti-gay ballot initiatives as a way of defusing the gay issue?

So here’s Barack Obama, so fresh and new – getting his national jump-start at the 2004 Democratic National Convention where he talked about red and blue states and having gay friends.  Yes – he actually used the word “gay.” But no more. Both in his New Hampshire concession speech and in his thank you to Kerry, Obama reverted to the code word “equality.”

Here we go again.After reading Laura Kiritsy’s excellent article in Bay Windows about LGBT influence during the New Hampshire campaign, we must thank Human Rights Campaign field organizer Heather Gibson as well as local LGBT folks who asked the candidates questions at open forums – at least they got Obama to use the code word. Apparently the HRC “Equality” tee shirts and stickers were ubiquitous.

But what struck me was how Kiritsy described Obama volunteers who apparently tried to shoo Gibson away as she passed out pro-equality stickers outside an event.  It was only after a congresswoman hugged Gibson that they stopped eying her so suspiciously.

To me this is emblematic of the kind of Rovian Stockholm Syndrome that has gripped Washington and apparently continues to grip Democratic political campaigns.  Once again, inherent in the unscripted soul of this “change” campaign, gays were initially perceived as a threat.

The other political take-away from Kiritsy’s piece is that the LOCAL crowds were genuinely pro-gay as if the inclusion of the LGBT community is also symbolic of “change” in the movement to elect the first African American president.  

But without Kiritsy or syndicated lesbian journalist Lisa Keen, or commentary on our blogs, websites, and listservs, I would not know about LGBT participation.  They have helped flesh out my own analytical election pieces for gaywired.com on Hillary’s emotional moment and on a recap New Hampshire and looking forward.

As Kerry Eleveld pointed out in The Advocate, the only time the presidential candidates has mustered for the LGBT press was the Logo/HRC forum last summer, and Clinton’s 15 minute post-Logo sit-down and Obama’s 15 minute phoner with The Advocate after “ex-gay” gospel singer Donnie McClurkin’s tour through South Carolina.  Edwards never agreed to an interview with the national LGBT publication.

I have been pitching for interviews with both Clinton and Obama since the start of the campaigns, and with Edwards since last September. I interviewed Bill Richardson after his official announcement in Los Angeles – he wanted me to know how good he was on LGBT issues. After Chris Crain and I wrote about his “maricon” [Spanish for “faggot”] moment, however, I got nowhere.

Now comes the story in Queerty called “DNC Plays Politics with Gay Press.” The story revolves around email exchanges among the Democratic National Committee communications staff that came to light as a result of a lawsuit filed against the DNC and chair Howard Dean by onetime DNC LGBT Outreach Coordinator Donald Hitchcock (read about the lawsuit on the Out For Democracy blog).

The money quote from the emails comes from Julie Tagen, DNC Deputy Finance Director who says that Hitchcock’s replacement, Brian Bond should handle all gay press inquiries to interview Dean because, she wrote, “I tend to use the blade [referring to the Washington Blade] and the other gay papers in the bottom of the birdcage.”  

(Read Chris Crain’s blog for more.)

Ouch.  The DNC, the suspicious Obama volunteers, the inaccessible Clinton, and John Edwards – I forgot to mention that one of the conditions that Edwards made when he visited the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center – the same center he said everyone should know about during his turn on Logo – was no press! I was in the Logo audience, boiling over. They would have known about it if you had allowed me to cover it – just as I covered visits by Al Gore and Bill Bradley!

Actually, I knew how the DNC felt about the Washington Blade because I did get an interview with Dean and I asked him about the paper’s reporting on Hitchcock’s firing. It’s important to note that at the time, Dean and others believed the Blade’s editor Chris Crain was a gay Republican. The impression was the largely the result of the Blade’s “persistence in asking tough questions of the DNC and Dean,” Crain told me later, including asking questions about the dismantling of the LGBT constituency desk despite Dean’s promise not to do so, as well as questions about Dean’s appearance on the 700 Club, and the events surrounding Hitchcock’s firing.  In fact, Crain said, he left the GOP in 1998 when the House voted for the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  It confirmed for him that the Republican Party had been hijacked by a wing of the party that he wanted nothing more to do with. He’s since been very publicly independent. In my interview, Dean said:

“First of all, we consider the Washington Blade to be the New York Post of the gay and lesbian press corp. They’re not credible and they have somebody who has an agenda which is certainly not favorable to the Democratic Party so we simply don’t give them any credence. Secondly, I’m not going to comment on anybody’s firing except to say that it had nothing to do with retribution or anything like that. It was simply a job performance matter. Thirdly – we have – for the first time in DNC history – put money into Illinois to make sure that the marriage amendment didn’t go forward and we won that one.”

I’m sure I secured the interview because I was specifically interested in the DNC’s 50-state strategy and the then-new Inclusion Rule written by openly gay DNC super-delegate Garry Shay, of the Los Angeles Stonewall Democratic Club.

I also wanted to ask Dean about marriage equality:

“What we support is equal rights under the law for every single American. We don’t take a position on the “M” word. Even in the gay community, there are differences on this one. We believe everybody in American deserves the same rights under the law…. We oppose marriage amendments, whether they’re federal or state. We do not believe in enshrining discrimination in any constitution and we’ve put our money where our mouth is. The Democratic Party believes that ‘equal rights under the law’ has to be for everybody and they have to be for everybody in every state. You can argue about whether that means marriage or civil unions but there’s a huge difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.”

During that interview in August 2006, I also asked Dean about the prevailing attitude espoused by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others that gays cost Kerry the election in 2004. Dean said:

“We don’t, first of all, believe that we lost because of gay issues. We think we weren’t sufficiently vigorous in supporting our turnout efforts in rural communities and we weren’t sufficiently vigorous in defending a Democratic point of view. Unlike some other folks in the Party, my view is if you want to win, you’ve got to behave like Democrats, and not Republican-light.”

(The full interview is available here but as I post this, the server at IN Los Angeles magazine is temporarily down.)

These were important points since during an appearance at Access Now for Lesbian and Gay Equality (ANGLE) and later at the California Democratic Convention that April in 2006, Dean was backtracking on quotes saying the DNC did not support same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the California Party and all those seeking LGBT political and financial endorsements supported full marriage equality.  

And yet – other than stickers indicating support for California Assemblymember Mark Leno’s marriage bill and appearances by candidates before the LGBT Caucus, there was little LGBT visibility at the convention.

Eric Stern, then-head of National Stonewall Democrats (who now supports Edwards), told me:

“Its going to be incumbent on our community, especially our donors when they have the opportunity, to put a little more pressure on our candidates on our issues. Donors are the individuals who have the most access to candidates, who have the most persuasion. Our donors need to be smarter and be more aggressive. You see the effect it’s having in California where the bar is marriage and nothing lower.”

But it’s not just about gay donors, ANGLE honcho Jeremy Bernard, who now supports Obama, told me at the time:

“I’ve gotten a sense from my friends – and I feel this way too – that we’re tired of being ATM machines. They come and take our money and leave California and they don’t really pay attention to what we think or believe. In Boston [during the Democratic Convention in 2004], we were good soldiers because Bush is so bad. But it’s the last time. We’re not going to swallow our pride like that ever again. In 1992 [during Clinton’s inauguration], we were part of a new, exciting world. To think that 12 years later we have moved backwards – it’s horrifying. And the fact that most people didn’t think about it [gay visibility] and no one noticed at the Democratic convention – that’s the saddest part.”

The saddest part today is that LGBT people are still shooed away, still eyed with suspicion, still addressed through code words like “equality” and their representatives – the LGBT press – is still shunned — while the candidates talk about change and inclusively.  

Perhaps the most painful part is knowing that the candidates are aware that the LGBT vote is the second largest and most loyal group in the Democratic Party – roughly 75% – second only to African Americans. So while the candidates court the Black vote in South Carolina as a “core constituency” – they are once again rendering us indivisible.

Some change.

So what do we do about it?

We must show up, vote, participate in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and demand to be counted in the exit polls.

LGBT activists and organizations must launch email and letter-writing campaigns to the national and local media and pollsters demanding that the gay question be asked and included in the final tallies.

And we must also demand to me included as a demographic, a distinct minority – not as an issue. No more should we be sandwiched in between Does someone in your household own and gun? And Does someone in your household belong to a union?

We should be counted and included alongside African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.

And we should conduct our own polling – from HRC to unscientific polls on blogs and websites.

This is a critical election and in the long run, we will vote for the candidate we think will best run the country and eventually help us achieve full equality.

But for now, it is only in the voting booth where LGBT people are full – not second class – American citizens.

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