|by Hastings Wyman|
Gay Group Prods Pentagon
The Defense Department's latest effort to clarify its so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays came about in large part because of the efforts of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group long active on behalf of lesbians and gay men in the military. A White House insider says that SLDN "deserves a lot of credit for perseverance and persistence" for the recently announced guidelines; "they just don't give up."
The Pentagon's new guidelines don't actually change the anti-gay policies of the U.S. Armed Services, but they do represent "a good first step," says SLDN senior attorney Stacey Sobel. She also notes that the guidelines "sat on a shelf for two years," while harassment of gays in the military increased. During this time, SLDN continued to badger the folks in the Pentagon's Office of Defense Personnel and Readiness about the growing problems being experienced by gays in the military. Administration muscle probably helped also.
The Defense Department will now require anti-harassment training for all enlisted personnel and will advise officers who want to investigate suspected gay servicemen and women to first seek guidance from higher-ups. The guidelines, while not equivalent to a new policy, have the potential of easing conditions for the military's thousands of gay men and lesbians. However, warns Sobel, "They still need to be on their guard."
Democrats Vie to Unseat Santorum
Although Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum has met with Log Cabin Republican leaders in the past, he has not taken the moderate path of many of his fellow Northeastern GOPers. "He's been horrible on everything," says Philadelphia's Denise Kulp, local leader and National Stonewall Democrats co-chair.
Santorum, who rates a paltry 33 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's legislative scorecard on gay issues, has some factors working for him in his reelection bid. He's already got an impressive $2.3 million campaign fund; he gets points for being an energetic campaigner; and George W. Bush is running well ahead of Al Gore in the Quaker State, 50 percent to 30 percent, according to the recent Keystone Pollthough Bill Clinton carried the state in 1992 and 1996.
But Santorum is not a heavy reelection favorite. His showing in opinion polls is weak for an incumbentin a mid-June survey, 34 percent of respondents said they would vote to reelect him, but 38 percent said they would vote for a new person and 28 percent were undecided.
Congressman Ron Klink, the Democrats' frontrunner, rates only 50 percent with HRC, but he made a campaign appearance at a major gay and lesbian political dinner. Philadelphia Log Cabin's David Greer suggests that if frontrunner Klink wins the Democratic nod, Santorum may "move to the left on our issues" to build support in Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Other Democratic contenders for Santorum's Senate seat include state Sen. Allyson Schwartz and ex-U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, who have pro-gay records but are plowing the same urban/suburban liberal ground. Ex-state Sen. Bob Rovner, Philadelphia lawyer and radio talk-show host, switched from the GOP and promptly set up a campaign fund with one million bucks of his own money, granting him immediate gravitas. Ex-U.S. Rep. Peter Kostmayer has the potential to win support among gay voters. And Tom Foley, a former state and federal labor department official, may be helped by two previous losing statewide races. Mark Singel, a former lieutenant governor, will announce a go or no-go next year.
"Margolies-Mezvinsky, Kostmayer and Schwartz are all three favorites of the community," says Kulp. These threeplus Klinkare the Democrats' top fundraisers.
Dribs and Drabs in Dixie GOP
Gay liberationlike most civil rights movementsis moving at a slower pace in the South than elsewhere, especially in the Elephant Party. But, slow or not, it is moving:
In Georgia: Donna Johnston, a 71-year-old father of four and a pre-op male-to-female transgendered person, serves as a member of the DeKalb County Republican Executive Committee. She joined the party because, as a retired engineer with the Naval Air Systems Command, she believes Democrats "are shortchanging the military," and because she supports smaller government. While Johnston, who attends meetings dressed as a woman, hasn't advertised her transgender status, she is out to some GOP honchos. DeKalb County Republican chair Jill Chambers told Southern Voice, a gay paper in Atlanta, "Whoever pays dues, helps stuff envelopes, gets other people to vote Republican, will always have a say-so in the party."
In Florida: seven members of Broward County's Log Cabin Republican Club were elected as delegates to the state Republican Party's "Florida Victory 2000" convention, to be held in Orlando, October 8 and 9. Earlier this year, the club became the only gay organization in the South officially recognized by a state GOP.
And in Texas: the Clerk of Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, has requested a ruling from state Attorney General John Cornyn on whether counties in the Lone Star State have power to recognize domestic partnerships between unmarried couples, including same-sex couples. At present, Travis Countywhere Austin, the state capital, is locatedis the only Texas county that recognizes such relationships; unwed couples there, including gays, can register as domestic partners. The effort in Bexar County has been pushed by Michael McGown, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and president of the local Log Cabin Republicans.
Bad Omen in Iowa Vote?
The Iowa Republican Party's straw ballot on August 14 had a straw or two in the wind for gay voters. The good news was that the relatively moderate candidatesGeorge W. Bush and Elizabeth Dolefinished first and third, respectively. The bad news was the strong showing of social conservatives Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer, both of whom have major support among the anti-gay Christian right.
Second-place winner Steve Forbes, son of the late gay multimillionaire Malcolm Forbes, has said he would accept a contribution from Log Cabin Republicans (unlike Bob Dole in '96), but he has kowtowed to social conservatives throughout this year's campaign.
But it's Bauer's fourth-place showing in Iowaahead of such social conservatives as Dan Quayle and Pat Buchananthat is the real black cloud on the political horizon. None of the righter-than-thou GOPersForbes, Buchanan, Quayle, et al.holds any promise for gay and lesbian voters. But Bauer, who is the former leader of the virulently homophobic Family Research Council, is particularly threatening. His Web site, for example, promises he will "oppose the political agenda of the organized 'gay rights' movement, including same-sex marriage and 'special rights' legislation." Bauer isn't likely to overtake Forbes as Bush's No. 1 challenger, but his significant showing may deter Forbesand possibly Bush or Dolefrom moving in a more moderate direction.
Springer Leaves Ohio Democrats Scrambling
One can only imagine how different President Clinton's impeachment trial in the Senate would have been had shock-and-mayhem maestro Jerry Springer been in charge. Clinton-Ken Starr fisticuffs? Hillary-Monica hair-pulling? Linda Tripp snatching off John Goodman's wig?
But, alas, Springer announced that he will not challenge Ohio's Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who rated 33 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's legislative scorecard. The how-low-can-you-go talk show host would have made an interesting candidate, particularly where gay issues are concerned. "When he was a city councilman and mayor of Cincinnati," says Brian Shinn, president of the Central Ohio Gay and Lesbian Democrats, "he did an excellent job."
Springer has run statewide before, for governor in 1982, but he lost because he'd patronized a prostitute and paid her, bless his heart, with a check. He also may run again in the future; in his withdrawal statement, Springer said he would like to return to public life some day.
Shinn says Springer is socially progressive. Somehow we knew that. Springer has always included a healthy (and I use the term loosely) sprinkling of non-heterosexuals among the less-than-stellar low-lifes who are guests on his show. Indeed, had Springer run and made a strong showing against DeWine, we would have had yet another example of the decline of Puritanical standards in American politics.
Without Springer, Ohio Democrats really don't have a horse to ride against DeWine. One by one, potential challengers have stepped down. About the only name left is that of former state Rep. Richard Cordray, who managed a tepid 40 percent in his 1998 state attorney general. However, he's "a very good friend of the gay community," says Shinn. Cordray has had a TV career as wellhe's a former Jeopardy national champion.
Michigan: Senate Pot Simmers
Michigan's gay voters are enthusiastic about the Senate candidacy of Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow, who got 100 on the latest HRC scorecard. Moreover, she's challenging Sen. Spencer Abraham, a conservative Republican whose HRC score was a puny 17. Two recent indicators suggest the race will be down to the wire.
First, money. The mid-year financial reports show Abraham has raised nearly $2.5 million, Stabenow $910,000. While the gap is large, incumbents usually raise more. In Michigan, both candidates are ahead of the curveAbraham's total is the second highest among incumbents, Stabenow's the third highest of any U.S. Senate challenger.
Second, polls. In April, Abraham led Stabenow 39 to 37 percent in a survey of Michigan voters. In late July, it was still closeAbraham led 43 to 39. Since incumbents need to be showing 55 percent or so in polls to feel secure, Abraham clearly remains highly vulnerable.
But the race could be complicated by one or even two independent candidacies. Controversial but wealthy trial attorney Geoffrey Feiger, who got 38 percent in a 1998 race for governor, is thinking about mounting an independent bid, which he could virtually self-finance. Feiger would very likely draw liberal voters from Stabenow.
Queer and There
Donna Red Wing, the high-profile HRC staffer, is leaving her job for a new one directing the Gill Foundation's OutGiving Project. Red Wing, who was HRC's field director, also represented the powerful gay rights group on the board of the Millennium March on Washington. The Gill Foundation helped finance the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's highly successful "Equality Begins at Home" projects last spring.
California Democrats have allotted gay men 5 percent and lesbians another 5 percent of the state's 2000 national convention delegates. The 10 percent total mayor may notexceed the percentage of gay Californians, but it probably under-represents the lesbian and gay share of Democratic voters.
Hastings Wyman has been a D.C. insider for more than three decades. He publishes Southern Political Report, a nonpartisan biweekly political newsletter. He can be reached in care of LETTERS from CAMP Rehoboth or at HwymanSPR@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 12, Aug. 27, 1999