Alex Blaze

And then there were the panelists

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 10, 2007 12:28 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Rodham Clinton, HRC, Joe Solmonese, Jonathan Capehart, Logo, Margaret Carlson, marriage, Melissa Etheridge, presidential debates

Originally the only two panelists for the HRC/Logo Presidential Forum were going to be Joe Solmonese and Melissa Etheridge. It was easy to question their journalistic capabilities since one did not have a professional background in politics or journalism and the other is a lobbyist who has relationships to maintain, so the HRC added Washington Post editorialist Jonathan Capehart to the mix of questioners and Margaret Carlson (a straight woman) as the moderator of the event, and thank the Lord they did.

The word "unimpressive" doesn't really begin to describe Melissa's performance last night. I'm not going to criticize or give her credit for the questions themselves since I'm guessing they were all run by real journalists or activists more intimately involved with the legislation discussed, or even hand-written by the HRC. I don't know. But what I will say is that for a debate that was so pressed for time that it felt a need to exclude one of the candidates , and whose organizers dug their heels in the ground until some very public shaming occurred, Melissa seemed very happy to waste everyone's time with stories about her children, explanations of her Creator, and overall extreme verbosity when it came to any issue of substance.

She called out John Edwards for his supposed "uncomfortable with the gays" comment, which if she had done her research she would have known that he denied, implied that for some reason "lower-income people" have different issues with health care than gay and lesbian couples (issues for the latter can't be addressed with quality universal health care? News to me), and then, of course, asked Hillary if she'd be the same as her husband was. Ugh.

But the worst was when she "fawned" over Kucinich, and used the word "fawn" to describe her feelings for him, and called Gravel "refreshing" right there on the stage. Talk about objective journalism. Instead of fawning over Kucinich, why not ask him why he had such a recent change of heart over a reproductive choice? Or if we're staying away from "women's issues" at this forum, why not ask him why he's apparently disinterested in party-building when it's a necessary part of his fawn-worthy agenda? (Will Republicans the ENDA in Congress if they get a majority and there's a president Kucinich? You bet.)

Could she have maybe asked Mike Gravel if he was going to get the US to accede to the International Criminal Court to help bolster US human rights credibility to fight queer oppression abroad? Instead of, you know, asking him if there are gays in Alaska, could she have asked him what he was going to do about un-coupled people, queer and straight, getting older and not having support systems or resources that people with spouses and children have?

There were things to ask these people and she didn't have to fawn over them.

And then there's Joe. I'm not going to say that the guy isn't smart or that he doesn't know about the issues, but I will say that his chummy relationship with Clinton in the last segment of the debate made me wonder if a professional lobbyist should really be asking these questions. Sure, he did push, but was the push planned beforehand? Was her "very positive about civil unions" quip laid out while planning the debate? I don't know. Maybe it wasn't, maybe he pushed her like he would any other candidate, but we'll never actually know, will we?

And a straight moderator who even said that she had started learning about these issues from Logo three days before? Wasn't there a queer journalist qualified to moderate? To be clear, I think she was great, but since I'm not expecting an openly gay or trans moderator at any other debate (Anderson doesn't count), this would have been a great opportunity for one to get some more screen time. Aren't we supposed to be about supporting the community?

Jonathan Capehart was direct, thoughtful, and good with the follow-ups. To me, he was the refreshing one at the forum.

Marti pointed out that this debate could have been called the "HRC and Logo Presidential Forum on Marriage Equality". I think I'm with her on this one. In fact, I sorted out the questions by topic, excluding minor follow-ups and sticking with the planned ones, and by my count there were 22 questions on marriage or couples benefits in relation to marriage, 2 on HIV prevention, 2 on Don't Ask, 2 on employment discrimination, and 15 other questions on topics that weren't directly related to one another ("How can Kucinich become president?" "Do you think it's a choice?").

I know, I know, marriage is important to a lot of people. But when there are an estimated 670,000 same-sex couples living together in the country and estimates of the number of LGBT people range from 8 to 20 million. That's about 3 to 8% 6 to 16% of the queers in this country, and those couples aren't just worried about marriage-related issues.

It just seems like one small part of the "community" hijacked the debate when there was so much possibility for actually challenging some of the privileges given to couples in this country over single people, the latter a group LGBTQueer people will always be a disproportionately large part of. And it seems like a large waste of time in this debate to get a bunch more "I'm not there yet"s out of the candidates when there were plenty of other important issues to hear about from them (like, say, judicial nominees?).

But, well, this is just a convergence of everything we already knew. Oh, well. As Jasmyne Cannick says: we could do better, but we won't.


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Leland Frances | August 10, 2007 2:35 PM

Disagree about Carlson's contributions, and not just because they chose someone straight [however previously empathetic or informed] to carry LGBT water. Was this the HRC Plantation Hour? Though I think all the attention paid to him is fuctionally a waste of time, I treasure Kucinich's courage of his convictions. Yet, former Fred Thompson porkee Carlson mocked and diminished him, and his supporters, twice: "welcome to the left coast" and something about being "out there" or the like. I suppose one must be thankful that she didn't "quip" that he must be from another planet.

Out, former CNN anchor Thomas Roberts [versus that closeted coward Cooper] would have been a great choice, and there's a big three out reporter, too, whose name always escapes me. Jeffrey something?

As for Melissa. I agree that she wasted time and much she said, even just in print, almost sent me into insulin shock. BUT she elicited the only NEW answer of the evening and campaign and one that keeps getting ignored: Edwards daring support for gay-positive messaging in public schools:

"ETHERIDGE: Do you think public schools should teach about LGBT kids and families? Or do you think this is a place — how can we bring this into the public school system? Or should we?

EDWARDS: Oh, sure, it should. I mean, the kids who go to public schools need to understand why same-sex couples are the parents of some of the children. They need to understand that these are
American families, just like every American family. .... WE AS ADULTS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY'RE EDUCATED, THAT THEY UNDERSTAND THIS IS A GOOD THING AND IT'S SOMETHING THAT WE AS AMERICANS BELIEVE IN AND EMBRACE.”

I feel like someone from another planet myself when I awoke to discover that this isn't the lead story about last night on every LGBT site.

Thanks again for the transcripts.

Melissa's bark beetle question was silly. But kudos to her for reminding everyone that her husband DID throw us under the bus.

I thought Joe did okay. Wasn't too thrilled with the moderator or Melissa, but Thomas blew me away. I LOVED him. By far and away, he was the best. I do agree with Leland though that Melissa got the only new answer out of anyone (Edwards) and was also responsible for the Richardson question. That's not too shabby for a "not journalist." :)

I am with Leland about Edwards. That was one of the small bits I was able to catch between outages of the online feed. I nearly shat myself when I heard him say LGBT issues should be taught in schools. That's fucking huge and the rightwing is going to roast him on it.

I commented on a thread last night that Melissa was a crappy panelist. I mean, loudmouth Rosie would have been a better choice than Etheridge.

As for marriage being the central issue, I'm of a mixed bag on that. I think it was overkill to have so much dominance by marriage related questions, but I can also understand why it happened that way. In presidential politics, the only LGBT issue that registers on the radar right now is marriage. It's been the hot button issue for the past few years and that battle is raging just as furiously today as it was when it started.

I don't know. In some ways, I think marriage is the right battle at the wrong time. I think marriage is one of the biggest hurdles we have toward realizing true equality. And I don't mean that in an assimilationist "we must be just like the hets"kind of way. I mean that once we get a majority of the country convinced that gay is OK enough to allow to marry, we will have crossed that line from tolerance to acceptance.

Problem is, the marriage issue did come up first and we can't walk away from that battle. Even if you're not at all interested in marriage, it's important that we don't lose the fight against constitutional amendments that ban marriage equality. It's important because, as we've seen in Indiana and most of the other states that have addressed a constitutional amendment, banning gay marriage isn't the only thing they try to do.

They try to ban adoption by same sex couples. They try to roll back Human Rights laws. They try to ban in-vitro fertilization for non-married couples (including same sex or opposite sex). They try all sorts of nasty tricks while they wedge whack the marriage issue to keep people blinded to their other indiscretions.

Marriage is such a battle ground because it's the only LGBT issue the right wing can get a majority on - so they're not going to let it go. They can froth up way too many of their ChristoSheeple (I'm trademarking that one) with marriage and get them to "see a need" for these other laws too.

So, marriage isn't just about marriage. It's often political double speak for bigger issues. In getting into the nuances of the answers, you can get a picture for how they really view our community. Do they know our issues? Like Edwards bringing up homeless LGBT youth (which Bil said wouldn't be mentioned) or Edwards again asserting his belief that LGBT issues should be taught in school.

That shows a breadth and depth to our issues while still holding out on marriage in order to preserve votes. Yes, you just have to do that sometimes in politics. That's why allowing them to dance around this questions gives us a bigger picture of how inclusive the candidate really is.

It's a dance. Politicians are trained to give you as indirect an answer as possible. Especially in today's age of camera phones and Macaca YouTube moments, a simple little misspeak can cost you the entire election. That's why you keep them talking as much as possible on an issue they are somewhat comfortable talking about (like marriage, since it's been an ongoing debate for so many years and the candidates are well established in their positions) - at some point, the true person will shine through. Last night, we saw that happen several times, good and bad.

Jerame said:

So, marriage isn't just about marriage. It's often political double speak for bigger issues.

I totally agree with you there. In fact I think that's something that social conservatives acknowledge, even though they hate it, that marriage says a lot about what sort of sexual activity is normalized and sanctioned, and I think anti-marriage queer radicals "get it", except they're against that sort of assimilation. It just seems like some center-left/libertarian sorts are are always like "it's just a civil contract" or "we just want it for the 1200+ benefits that we can't even name 2% of". I think it would just be a lot more honest and a lot more productive if we just said the issue is a big part about being treated the same, is a big part about having our relationships normalized and blessed by the government, and, by extension, recognize that part of our identities and affirm it. It would be more honest, although some people might back away from a scary proposition like that one (or, like me, make me question the wisdom of marriage as a whole).

That said, a majority of the questions shouldn't have been about marriage. I know it's a symbol for other things, but symbols don't do any good to teens living in the street trying to find another bed to sleep in. That should have been brought up and not by a candidate, but by the panel.

I'm not saying that I expected them to ignore marriage, just that 22 out of 43 questions is a bit much.

And I would have liked Rosie up there a lot more than Melissa. :)

Robert Angelo | August 10, 2007 6:51 PM

But when there are an estimated 670,000 same-sex couples living together in the country and estimates of the number of LGBT people range from 8 to 20 million. That's about 3 to 8% of the queers in this country, and those couples aren't just worried about marriage-related issues.

I agree with your point, but I think you math needs some help. Multiply your estimate of the number of couples by two: There are over 1.3 million persons in GLBT couples. Or, 6% to 16%, if we rely on those statistics.