Guest Blogger

The Visible Vote? Do they really support us?

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 11, 2007 2:17 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: election 2008, guest post, HRC, InterstateQ, Logo, Matt Hill Comer

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] The following is a guest post by Matt Hill Comer. Matt, 21, is a student & LGBT activist and youth advocate from North Carolina and has been active in local, state and national grassroots organizing. You can catch his writings, thoughts, news and commentary at his website, InterstateQ.com.

mattcomer.jpgThe Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Presidential Forum on Thursday evening, co-presented by the Logo Channel, was the first time that the LGBT community really had a chance to shine in the usual dog-eat-dog world of the pre-primary election season so often full of debate after debate, party in-fighting and mad dashes to the finishing line of a race on who can raise the most money.

The real question in all this is not whether the LGBT community has been heard; I'd posit that we have, indeed, been heard. We did just have a major Presidential forum devoted to our issues. So that isn't the issue. The question instead falls on two sides of a very tricky political coin. Do the candidates really support us, or are they offering more of the usual political posturing that so often goes hand-in-hand with wanting a group's vote?

By far, the LGBT community's vote isn't the largest. Neither is it the most powerful. But with four percent of the vote, we've surely got enough power to sway an election. If the issues in an election truly did come down to LGBT issues (and, with the subject of issues on marriage and others so hot in people's minds, it could), then the turn-out of the LGBT community for one particular candidate could make a significant difference in election results, especially in a primary among Democrats.

For the most part, the candidates with the highest chances of being elected are pretty much on the same page on our issues. It is as if they took a page from that ever elusive "Homosexual Agenda," copy-and-pasted it into their platforms and had their speech-writers coin cool stories and sound-bites for us.

The only issue that really isn't on par with what the LGBT community wants (and, more aptly, needs for survival) is that of marriage equality.

Clinton, Obama and Edwards are all on the same page, again. Only this time, they aren't where the community wants and desperately needs them to be. All three support "civil unions," but when pressed on why they believe "marriage" is only for one man and one woman, they can't give any easy answers. Edwards did mess up one time; he said he had reservations due to his religious beliefs (although that certainly is no where near as bad as Richardson's gay is "a choice" screw-up). To Edward's credit, though, he did apologize.

Since all three of them seem to believe so strongly in the concept of "civil unions" and since they all seem to think that separate really can be equal, I'd love for them to dissolve their marriages and enter into civil unions, if they ever become law.

I have sincere doubts as to exactly which candidate truly believes in our issues. I don't know if any of them do. Everything they say to us sounds scripted and they won't stand up for full equality. Furthermore, whatever that was said during the HRC/Logo Presidential Forum certainly didn't reach the ears of everyone in our community. The poor, minorities or folks who live in places where Logo isn't offered or where internet viewing wasn't a viable possibility; all these folks missed their chance to hear the candidates talk to us.

My heart tells me to go for the person who is most likely to effect the most change, but exactly which one is that? My heart also tells me to vote for my sweet, fellow North Carolinian, but can I trust him with my civil rights?

The HRC/Logo Presidential Forum was supposed to give us real answers. What was supposed to be an open forum for discussing what really mattered to us, turned into a night of fan-fare and political hob-knobbing between the candidates, their staffs, the Human Rights Campaign and their mostly rich, white and male supporters.

From what I've seen, Clinton, Obama and Edwards only repeated the same things they've said before. The most outstanding of the three was Edwards, and that was only for his apology to us. Clinton came off as cold, too political and I got the sense that she was telling us to "wait and be patient" for the civil and social rights we should have had when our movement began some fifty years ago. Obama, well, he was okay, but he really didn't shine out.

More questions and not many more answers. Political posturing and a slate of copy-and-pasted candidates. Is this what the LGBT community gets for the millions of dollars we've poured into Democratic coffers?

When do we get our justice? When do we get our equality? When do our leaders face up to the fact that if they really want to lead our nation, then they must truly believe in those all too often forgotten, founding documents of our little Great Experiment.


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Leland Frances | August 11, 2007 4:51 PM

First, permit me to salute your activism, and emphasize that the following comments are meant neither to question your sincerity or good intention.

In all the real-time and post forum commentary I've read thus far, I am so dumbfounded by the absence of any acknowledgement, save by Bil Browning, of what John Edwards said about teaching respect for gay families in public schools that when you, so recently in such schools yourself and a "youth advocate" also fails to mention it, I'm beginning to think that the alleged following exchange never happened at all:

"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 don't know what more to say than ask for your and others' opinion about why this one new position, given that it challenges that part of the mindset of the rabid antigay industry that enrages them more than any other, was not the headline above every post forum discussion a la, "More Smoke & Mirrors Until Edwards Drops A Bombshell." Not only is it not the headline, it’s missing entirely in 99% of commentaries.

As for the smoke and mirrors, which, as I read it, might be a cliched way of summarizing much of your take, what of the epistemological?

Until Costco sells crystal balls or goddess appears to us in a burning bush, what is the process by which we can know who "really supports" us or "truly believes in our issues"? And, even if we had one, does it practically matter?

While a relatively long life, and being in the right place at the right time, have afforded me the priceless opportunity to befriend or at least briefly talk with some of our people's greats such as Frank Kameny and Leonard Matlovich and Barbara Gittings and Vito Russo and Steve Endean and Phyllis Lyon, there is one icon, in many ways a giant, who passed before I was able to pass his way: Bayard Rustin. But I remain inspired by the courage of his actions and the timeless wisdom of his words:

"Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That's our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment."

Of course, I am not suggesting that any of the Democratic candidates secretly hate us [as, in contrast, I'm convinced Repug Sam Brownback does] nor that you're suggesting that you require them to love us. But somewhere in between remains the question of how much personal identification is necessary to believe that they will do all they can to try to effect the changes about which we both so care.

I say "try" not just because it is realistic but because so much is lost in so many discussions and broadsides, so much is wrongly posited on the logical fallacy that "all things are equal."

For example, Richardson supporters say as he does that he has "done more for gays than anyone else." That may be true. But the disingenous thrust of that tactic is that the other leads have not been in the same position as a governor to do OR not do as much. None have been the executive with both the opportunity to lobby legislators to pass gay-friendly legislation and then sign into law, but legislators themselves in the most contentious bicameral legislative body in the country. It would be almost as unfair for him to declare another fact: he's more Latino than any of the other candidates.

Disingenuous Log Cabiners and nongays play this same game about Arnold. "He's signed more gay legislation than any governor in California's history." True, but he has been presented with more gay legislation than any governor in California's history. And his vetoes ["marriage," mandating inclusion of LGBTs in CA textbooks as other minorities are] have been transparently motivated by the desire to appease antigay fascists.

Yes, absolutely, a President who was emotionally connected to us as people is both more likely to fight for us and, perhaps, more likely to win, than one simply though admirably dedicated to concepts like Justice and Equality For All. But, again, in the absence of some objective mechanism for determining which those are we are left to the mercy or mistakes of what WE bring to the moment and reactions this week once again demonstrate how disparate and subjective those can be. I have read that Edwards looked really comfortable and that he was "obviously squirming." To you, Hillary, "came off as cold, too political" while others described her as, once again, coming off on top, relaxed so much she could joke about "Joe Schmo." You thought Obama "okay, but he really didn't shine out." Others described him as moving, inspirational, the clear winner of the evening. Richardson was "simply not good in such situation" or a disaster or drunk, his campaign over, "get him off!" Kucinich and Gravel were both either courageous, heroic or buffoons.

Such selective perceptions don't just apply to overall affect. In the YouTube debate, was Edwards just supplying what he thought was a harmless, neutral throwaway response to the absurd demand to say something negative about an opponent when he commented on Hillary's jacket color or was it a vicious, sexist "attack"? At Howard University, was Obama, as supporters insist, simply speaking to his marital fidelity when he proclaimed he needed to make clear that he got his HIV test with his wife not Biden or was he making a "don't nobody be thinkin' I'm a fag" joke?

In the midst of all of this, I believe we are best served by concentrating on The Empirical—what the candidates have done or not done in the past relative to what they were in a position to do [Hillary should no more be held accountable for Bill's failings than Edwards get credit for Mrs. Edwards wisdom], and what they have said about it if it was something we disagree with and The Possible—what they say they will TRY to do [trusting them is a gamble but that is reality] in relation to what a President can do [versus, e.g., Congress] and what is practically relevant verus symbolic [e.g., repealing DOMA Section would largely be only symbolic].

Those two can result in a synthesis from which we can try to make the best decisions. Granted it's more complicated and demanding of knowledge than popularity contests and the remarkably persistent search for messiahs and people on white horses. Can not only the latter explain continued support of some of Richardson's gay followers in the face of less what he choked on re gay etiology than that the "candidate who has done the most for gays" could not say whether or not he would sign a marriage-legalizing bill put before him?

Which brings me to my final difference. While I fervently believe that we mustn't rest until equal access to the word "marriage" is achieved, along that journey I perceive far few gays "desperate" for the word so much as they are desperate for all the rights and benefits that are associated with it—that, as I hear them, every Dem candidate supports the supply of in some form.

Thanks again for your thoughts and for your commitment to gay equality.



Leland Frances | August 11, 2007 4:59 PM

Should have read, "[e.g., repealing DOMA Section 2 would largely be only symbolic].

Leland... Thanks for your in-depth and thoughtful comments.

Also like Bil, I have yet to be able to see the entire forum. I do not have Logo (it isn't provided in North Carolina) and the live online stream didn't work well and the streams they have available now haven't worked well.

Honestly, I missed Edwards comments about LGBT youth and schools and I am so happy and so glad and so grateful to him for what he said. I guess this gives me even more reason to support him (I've long been thinking that I'd support him anyway, and have in many instances voiced my support for him).

This post, however, is more, I guess, external thinking. Looking at what I have read and seen about the forum and the bits and pieces I got from it, I just don't get a sense that I either like or trust any of the candidates. To me it just sounds all like empty promises.

In my mind, I do not know if I can fully believe that any of these candidates will be supporting us with as much power and strength as they can muster.

I'm open for criticism and dialogue. Always open. And I'm always open to someone coming up with some good reasons why I should support Candidate A over Candidate B, or Candidate C over both A and B.

Matt, in your post you say:

"The HRC/Logo Presidential Forum was supposed to give us real answers. What was supposed to be an open forum for discussing what really mattered to us, turned into a night of fan-fare and political hob-knobbing between the candidates, their staffs, the Human Rights Campaign and their mostly rich, white and male supporters."

But, in your response to Leland's comment you say that you haven't seen the whole forum. What's that about? How can you dismiss the forum without having seen it?

I have a few issues with the forum, but I actually saw the whole thing. Its not enough to read what others have wrote particularly when you know that there are going to be people that dismiss the forum out of hand because HRC had a role in organizing it.

It may be true as you saw that not one of the candidates will support our fight for equality with "much power and strength as they can muster, but we can't just dismiss something as important as the presidential forum without having seen it in its entirety first.

Michael... I'm not attempting to dismiss the entire forum, only provide conversation and dialogue on it. I've seen probably, roughly 50% of it and I kept up with the live-blogging of it. From that I have drawn my conclusions.

And, there is no debating: HRC is mostly rich, mostly white and mostly male. That is a fact we must live with and deal with.

FYI, y'all can watch the debate here. Just sayin', it's been a couple of days now and it's been up on the internet and if you have internet access you could have seen the whole thing by now, whatever connection speed you have.

Wilson46201 | August 12, 2007 9:53 AM

Why did no Republican presidential candidates attend this forum? I understand HRC/Logo invited the GOP white male roster -- all refused, including "Saint Rudi"...

Wilson... the answer to that is simple... The Republicans continue to want to play both sides of the public. We've heard some Republicans say or act, more or less, that they don't want to be candidates for all Americans, yet they are still playing to the Religious Right.

As for where the candidates really stand:

Having worked with candidates for years now, I can tell you that the only way to know for sure where somebody really stands is by getting honest answers from the folks who are close to them. I've been amazed by the number of straight candidates who I wouldn't expect to be particularly supportive of LGBT issues based on their geography that turn out to be stalwart supporters because someone close to them is gay. I've also been disgusted by the number of folks who are from "progressive" areas of the world who are nothing but empty sound bites. But if you can't talk to someone who knows them well personally, the next best thing is talking to gay rights activists from the area they represent.

For example, I can say, as an ex-New Yorker, that there are a whole lot of reasons that Hillary went from getting nothing but cheers in her first NYC Pride parade to getting a whole bunch of catcalls in her subsequent parades. I also found the LGBT endorsement list she released pretty telling: it includes a lot of the who's who of major white gay leaders in NYC, but NONE of the local LGBT leaders of color I would have expected to see. That's especially remarkable considering that NYC is blessed with quite a number of prominent out leaders of color, including several current and former elected officials. I'm pretty sure that both the catcalls and the endorsement list omissions have the same roots. If you want to figure it out, surf on over to the Gay City News website and read some of their archives - there's plenty in there I'm sure you'll find edifying. Or, just ask a NYC activist who's not on the list.

As for Obama? In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say here that I'm on the record as a supporter of Obama, and it's for two reasons: one, I think it's about damn time we had a viable candidate of color for the Presidency, and two, that sound bite he uses about starting out as a community organizer in Chicago ain't just a sound bite, and I respect the hell out of that. I'm now in Chicago, and if there's any place that needs more strong leaders doing that sort of work, it's here.

I can't really speak much to Obama's history with the local LGBT community, as I'm a fairly recent import. But, I can say from being involved in the last round of Aldermanic elections that Chicago is the sort of place where, unfortunately, many South & West Side elected officials decline to respond to LGBT-related (or even HIV/AIDS related) questionnaires, as the LGBT rights movement is largely perceived in those areas as those white guys in Boystown. So, sad as it might be, that makes it comment-worthy that Obama actively supported pro-LGBT legislation while a state legislator.

(And God bless the Machine for encouraging such deep fractures between oppressed communities. They truly have made "divide and conquer" into an art form here in the Windy City.)

Finally, Edwards? I'm honestly not sure, but the best bet would probably be to ask some folks from North Carolina. Any of y'all on here and care to comment?

P. S.- For one of the many issues with Hillary, see the article below... Any New Yorker will tell you that the St Pat's parade is a pretty good indicator of how deep any leader's convictions go. There are a number of electeds who refuse to particpate in the Manhattan parade - especially since there's a big St Pat's parade in the outer boroughs that's LGBT-inclusive they can participate in instead!

Protest at St. Pat's Parade
GAY CITY NEWS
03/15/2007

Irish Queers will once again lead a demo against the St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17 to protest the exclusion of LGBT Irish groups since the now-defunct Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization first applied in 1991.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential hopeful, and other elected officials continue to participate in the parade despite comments by its leader last year that allowing gays in their "Catholic" parade would be like "Nazis... joining an Israeli parade."

The protest begins at 10:30 a.m. on Fifth Avenue at West 58th St. For more info, go to www.irishqueers.org.