Karen Ocamb

Change? What Change?

Filed By Karen Ocamb | January 11, 2008 5:47 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, Donald Hitchcock, gay press, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, LGBT politics, LGBT press, Logo, marriage equality, New Hampshire primary

Updated at the bottom of the post.

Change? Bah, humbug.

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

Kerry, in case you forgot, was the Vietnam war hero turned anti-war hero who didn’t have the courage to stand up to Karl Rove and the Swiftboaters and 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 antigay 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 antigay 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 eyeing 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 such as at GayNewsWatch.com and DavidMixner.com. LGBT reporters can then extrapolate how we voted.

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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“What we support is equal rights under the law for every single American...We believe everybody in American deserves the same rights under the law…...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.”

This is such total BS, and anyone who paid attention the ENDA battle in Congress knows it.

Such a pity that Howard Dean, a man who perhaps once could have led this country back to greatness (I was a loyal supporter of his Presidential campaign) is now just providing cover in the media for those without the courage to stand up for the values they claim to represent.

Pretty words, but empty promises...we all deserve far better than what we're getting from these people.

Excellent post, Karen, though I wouldn't read too much into what low level volunteers and campaign functionaries say and do. It's what we get from the top level and the candidate his/herself that matters, of course.

For the record, please don't believe the old saw about me being a gay Republican. I ended all affiliation with the Republican Party in December 1998, in a very public editorial in Southern Voice, the week they impeached Bill Clinton. The House vote confirmed for me that the GOP had been hijacked by a wing of the party that I not only disagreed with, I wanted nothing more to do with.

Ever since then I have been very very publicly independent, including in the years Howard Dean was convinced I was anti-Dem. In fact, I endorsed Bill Bradley for president in 2000 in the primaries and Al Gore in the general; and endorsed Wes Clark in the primaries and John Kerry in the general in 2004. I've endorsed Barack Obama in the primaries this time around. Sound like a gay Republican to you?

I call my blog Citizen Crain "an independent gay blog" for this same reason.

Howard Dean's paranoia about me had nothing to do with my now ancient-past as a Republican and everything to do with our persistence at the Blade in asking tough questions of the DNC and Dean -- about dismantling the constituency desk despite a promise not to, his 700 Club appearance, the Yandura memo and the Hitchcock firing.

To Dean, an uppity gay is much worse than a Republican or even Pat Robertson.

Thanks, Chris. My real concern is that the fear of gays at all levels in the campaigns might be endemic....

BTW - I updated the piece to correct the information about you. I'm sorry if I inadvertently contributed to any misperception about your independence.

Isn't it interesting though, that while some at the DNC think LGBT media is worthy of lining birdcages, here at Bilerico we've had Barney Frank, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and several other Democrats posting and as well as in other LGBT-relevant blogs and newsmedia, including the Blade.

Seems for all of Dean's and Tagen's disparaging talk, many of the Party's members apparently don't share their view.

Hmmmm... Well, Becky, I'd say that part of that has to do with the fact that we've asked for guest posts instead of interviews. It's a bit easier to get a politician to say something if they have complete control of their message.

Karen~ I can see what you're talking about. They're still very much afraid of us, of passing any LGBT legislation. It's interesting how they'd use the "Well, where else are you going to go?" argument for us, but the GOP doesn't do that for the Religious Right.

I can't believe how many people I still hear repeating the debunked and queer-phobic "John Kerry lost because of LGBT issues" meme. The numbers just don't support that analysis, as The American Prospect editorialized on last year, and it implies that our legislative priorities aren't the "real" ones to worry about, they're not the "core" issues, they're just frivolous things that the Democrats will only worry about if they have time while they work on the important work, like capitulating to Republicans on the war.

Very thorough post, Karen.

Chris~ Good point. I do feel hopeless about the possibilities for change when I see things like Dean going on the 700 Club (or the Obama/McClurkin concert, etc.). It's like, they get their pandering, when are we going to get ours?

Well, the answer is seeming like never.

This is a mighty big ship the Religious Right has built, and it's going to take a lot to turn it around.

This is a great post! As Alex said, very thorough.


MauraHennessey | January 12, 2008 4:07 PM

I am not thrilled with any Democrat except Kucinich. I still believe that we ought not throw our suport to anyone who does not support our agenda til we absolutely have to.

The Democrats used us as scapegoats when the real reason for the loss was their cringing and embarrassment of Liberalism

To parrot others, I will join in with a "great post" statement. It was fairly comprehensive and a nice break from the usual covered topics over at Bilerico, which can get tiresome after a while despite having been of interest before.

It's amusing how our community has come out of the closet just to be shoved under the rug by the heterosexual community. No LGBT should be fooled into thinking that we're anything more than an unpleasant occurrence in their world.

I also find it obnoxiously presumptuous of him to assert that the "M" word "issue" is a topic of much division even in our community.

I think Alex hits the nail on the head when he says we allow the politicians to guest post as versus doing interviews with them where we control the message more than they do...

But Becky does have a point when she says that not all Dems feel that way about the LGBT media. At today's caucus meeting, for example, I kept getting greeted by folks from the state party I didn't really know but they read the site. I was asked to endorse candidates on the blog, allow others to guest post about how LGBT friendly they are and another wanted me to run his campaign.

Some of them like us and see us for what we are - a demographic they should be courting.