Thank heavens for bloggers and the LGBT press.
Granted: I didn't see ALL of the media coverage on the Larry Craig sex scandal, but I did see A LOT and not much included reaction from openly gay people.
Yes, there were some gay perspectives - BlogActive's Mike Rogers (the man whose original reporting started it all) and Log Cabin executive director Patrick Sammon appeared on cable and Chris Crain and Michaelangelo Signorile "debated" outing on Newsweek's website.
But for the most part, we were once again treated to straight people having a field day discussing gay sex and the political fallout of Craig's conviction for disorderly conduct in a men's bathroom at the Minnesota airport. Which brings me to my panel "Will Gays Matter in '08?" at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists convention in San Diego over the Labor Day weekend.
The panel included:
- Steve Elmendorf - political consultant on the Hillary Clinton national LGBT Steering Committee. He's also a former deputy campaign manager for Kerry/Edwards '04. The Clinton campaign flew him in from Washington D.C. for the panel.
- Jeremy Bernard - political/fundraising consultant with his partner for the Barack Obama campaign in California; he is also an ANGLE board member.
- Ted Johnson - managing editor of Variety whose blog is a must first read for the entertainment industry.
- Scott Schmidt - a longtime gay Republican activist who is serves as a liaison between Rudy Giuliani's campaign to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
- Jason Mida - Director of the Victory Cabinet at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. He fundraises and recruits openly gay candidates.
- ALSO in the audience, Brian Bond - director of the DNC's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council (who also flew in for the discussion), and Frank Ricchiazzi, co-founder of the Log Cabin Republicans.
The panel started two and a half hours after Craig's resignation - and despite a timely press release (courtesy of Cathy Renna), only the San Diego Fox affiliate and NPR affiliate KPCC covered the panel for the mainstream media.
Bloggers and the LGBT press, on the other hand, covered the panel. The Victory Fund's Denis Dison blogged live at GayPolitics.com; GayNewsWatch.com's Chris Crain posted his impressions on CitizenCrain.com; and the Bay Area Reporter's Matthew Bajke is among the LGBT press who plan stories.
Why does this matter? Because campaigns have their own language and strategies to deal with minority issues and sometimes they have no clue what's really on the minds of the grassroots.
For instance, Julie Bolcer noted that many lesbians would like to claim Hillary as a sister, but a startled Steve Elmendorf denied that and said that the campaign would consider it a right-wing attack if it was brought up after Clinton was nominated. But KPCC's Frank Stoltz asked if he considered Julie's question an attack, which Elmendorf didn't answer.
I raised the gay crystal meth crisis in the context of health care, noting that it raises issues of drug-resistant HIV and STD's, as well as substance abuse treatment and housing. Both Elmendorf and Bernard said that the issue had not been discussed and probably wouldn't be if the community does not raise it. I can tell you that IN Los Angeles magazine has repeatedly writes about meth - we have a whole column dedicated to it (the "X-Meth Alliance") and meth has been the subject of numerous forums - but it apparently has not reached the ears of the people who have the ears of the candidates.
Yet according to CNN exit polls, 75% of self-identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual people voted for Democrats in the 2006 elections (gays were 3% of the total vote; 24% of GLBs voted for Republicans), suggesting that both candidates and the media should be interested in if, why, and in whom the community places its trust.
Consider this: mainstream media made much of political consultant Bob Shrum's story about how former North Carolina Senator John Edwards supposedly did not feel "comfortable" around gay people (Shrum: No Excuses, page 291). Edwards denied and laughed it off during the HRC/Logo presidential forum. But it was Elizabeth Edwards who first challenged Shrum's account in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. This was followed up with such strong support for marriage equality (her husband favors civil unions) that several Los Angeles-area voters with whom I chatted said they were voting for John Edwards because of his wife.
But no one has paid much attention to a much more substantial allegation by Shrum (pages 442-445) that Bill Clinton advised John Kerry to have a kind of "Sister Souljiah" moment around the federal constitutional marriage amendment. In 1991/92, presidential candidate Bill Clinton promised a "buy one, get one free" package deal - meaning that if he was elected, his intelligent wife would also contribute to the national interest. Today, the assumption is that if elected, Hillary Clinton would seek and perhaps follow her husband's counsel. If Mitt Romney is the GOP presidential nominee, some gay Republicans have said they will consider voting for Senator Clinton because of her husband's skill with "triangulation."
If Shrum is right, what kind of advice would Bill Clinton give Hillary about gays if she was in a legislative pinch? What advice is he giving now?
Shrum writes that Kerry could not support a federal constitutional marriage amendment - it was a "flip flop too far for Kerry." But Kerry did seem to take some of Clinton's advice. Here's an excerpt from Kerry's devastating interview with Lisa Keen published September 24, 2004 in the Washington Blade.
Blade:....You voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, and you've spoken out against the Federal Marriage Amendment. In both cases you described it as "gay bashing for political gain."
Many of us feel that the constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and Missouri also constitute gay bashing for political gain. I'm curious why you haven't spoken out against those two?
Kerry: Well, I think there's a distinction. I don't think that's gay bashing. It's obviously a position that people in the GLBT community disagree with -- I understand that. But I think that, historically, the definition of marriage and the application of marriage laws has always been state defined. It is up to the states, not the federal government.
That's why I viewed the federal efforts, as specifically targeted, as gay bashing, because they were usurping into a territory that they didn't belong. There was no need to do that. Under the constitution, no state has to recognize another state's decision, and it's up to the states.
So what they were doing was reaching, for political purposes, to drive a wedge. But it is within the rights of a state to define marriage. That's within state's rights. And, you know, the majority of people in most states have a different view about what constitutes marriage.
So this is a debate that's going on now. People have different views. What I think is important is to fight for fundamental rights.....:
Despite subsequent clarifications, the LGBT community translated that interview as Kerry saying he backed the states' right to pass antigay marriage constitutional amendments to their constitutions.
As Jeremy Bernard noted during the panel, the LGBT community stayed silent to help Kerry defeat George Bush - only to be blamed for Kerry's loss anyway. But Bernard said, we are silent no more. Melissa Etheridge suggested something similar when she went off-point during the HRC/Logo forum (see my interview with Melissa) and bluntly told Hillary Clinton the community felt "betrayed" and "thrown under the bus" by Bill Clinton after he was elected.
I asked Steve Elmendorf if Bill Clinton advised John Kerry to have a "Sister Souljiah" moment with gays over the antigay marriage initiatives and Elmendorf said, "It absolutely did not happen." Elmendorf's strong answer suggested that lingering mistrust of Bill should not spill over into mistrust of Hillary.
It should be noted that Shrum and his wife MaryLouise Oates are longtime friends of gay major domo David Mixner and have consistently supported gay rights. As many know, Mixner had a very public falling out with his friend Bill Clinton over the "don't ask, don't tell" military "compromise" (see Mixner's book Stranger Among Friends). They subsequently made up but Mixner is now an ardent supporter of John Edwards because of Edwards' positions on the war in Iraq and poverty.
(For the record, I asked Shrum's book publicist for an interview after the flare-up over Edwards - and I asked for help from MaryLouise Oates, whom I knew long ago when she was a reporter for the L.A. Times - but the interview never materialized. On NBC's Meet the Press and elsewhere, Shrum has consistently stood by what he wrote. I don't know if anyone has asked him about the Bill Clinton-John Kerry story. But now there are two presidential contenders and campaigns that vigorously dispute Shrum's allegations.)
The point here is that "states rights" is crucial to the LGBT community. "States rights" have traditionally allowed each state to determine if or how law enforcement and the court system prosecutes civil rights violations, crimes motivated by hatred, who has the right to control a person's body - the person or the state (selective sodomy laws, abortion rights, assisted suicide) - and other offenses to individual liberty.
We argue that the federal government has the duty to clarify and unify all those disparate laws, which is why we were exhilarated when the U.S. Supreme Court's overturned the sodomy laws and why we are pushing for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and a federal Hate Crimes law.
Some of us agree with the traditionalist thinking that marriage should be left up to the majority-rule of each state. But others of us (see Evan Wolfson) believe the Constitution is supposed to protect the minority from the majority so all of us have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
These are fundamental questions, not merely issues of semantics, and it appears that it is up to bloggers and the LGBT press to pursue them.
Next year the NLGJA convention will be held in Washington D.C. Here's hoping they invite the presidential candidates for a debate and ask a knowledgeable LGBT media journalist to serve as moderator.