LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth
|by Chris Crain|
|The Gay Haves and Have Nots
Much has been made recently among the chattering classes about the persistent divide in voting demographics in the Democratic presidential primaries.
Barack Obama enjoys support among African Americans, those with college educations or higher incomes and younger voters. Hillary Clinton is backed by white women, blue-collar workers, Hispanics and older Americans.
The Clinton campaign has argued that those in her demographic who have resisted the charms of the senator from Illinois are likely to do so in the general election, when their support will be critical to beat John McCain. That seems more a rationalization for ignoring Obama's overwhelming lead in pledged delegates and popular vote, but it does strike me as a contrast to several trends I've seen among GLBT voters.
Obviously, a huge part of Obama's appeal to black voters and Clinton's advantage among white women is that these voters feel a strong identity connection to the candidates themselves and their historic candidacies.
So why does that seem to translate less these days for how GLBT groups feel about our own historic runs for office? The same day that Obama rode to a resounding victory in North Carolina with more than 90 percent of the African-American vote, an openly gay candidate there got trounced by two-to-one in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.
Businessman Jim Neal had always been something of a longshot, but he got no love from our GLBT organizations in Washington, D.C. The Human Rights Campaign made endorsements in 14 Senate races two weeks ago, but rebuffed Neal's request for support. Even the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, whose reason for being is to elect openly gay candidates, decided not to endorse Neal or offer any financial support.
No doubt Neal's very long odds played into those decisions, but the cold shoulder was nonetheless disappointing and short-sighted, not to mention self-fulfilling in terms of his viability. Neal mounted a credible candidacy that generated a great deal of grassroots excitement among GLBT folks and progressives in and out of North Carolina. With assistance from HRC and the Victory Fund, he would no doubt have performed better. Isn't it more important for these groups to help lay the groundwork for future runs by Neal and other gay candidates than it is to preserve their precious win-loss records?
It's not just our political organizations that are having trouble of late keeping their eyes on the prize, either. There have been a number of stories in the gay and mainstream media this year about how many lesbian and gay voters are looking beyond gay issues when choosing which candidates to support.
At least where the Democratic presidential race is concerned, part of that disconnect stems from the narrow policy differences among the candidates on gay rights. Even still, the debate about the race within the gay communityin blogs, gay newspapers and elsewherehas often resembled the shallow snitfits between candidate surrogates that fill the cable news networks.
Many lesbians who it's pretty clear back Hillary because they identify with her as a woman have dutifully argued her GLBT talking points even though her gay rights record isn't the reason for their support. Ditto for the gay party insiders and alums from the Clinton administration.
The response from many gay Obama backers has come off just as rehearsed, voiced by well-educated and well-off gay men and GLBT African-Americansboth part and parcel of the Illinois senator's broader demographic coalition.
Still, I think the reason has more to do with the growing divide between the "gay haves" and the "gay have nots." With progress on gay rights stalled endlessly in Congress, real progress has been happening for years in individual states.
Out west and in the northeast, activists have succeeded in pushing through non-discrimination and hate crime laws, and a growing number of states have adopted varying degrees of legal recognition for same-sex couples. In his February "State of the Movement" address, former Task Force director Matt Foreman noted that just eight years ago, only 28 percent of the U.S. population was protected by laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientationnow more than half do.
Of course much more than half of all lesbian and gay Americans live in those states and cities, given the larger gay communities in big cities and on the two coasts. Gay money and political influence is even more concentrated in such places.
It's certainly understandable that the "gay haves" who live in these placescall them Pink Statesare more prone to look past gay rights to other issues like the economy or the war in Iraq. But where does that leave the "gay have nots"?For them, even basic protections will require movement in Washington, and without the full focus of gay money, political influence and our GLBT organizations, they may be waiting a very long time.
Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and gay publications in three other cities. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 05 May 16, 2008