Bil Browning

Why is EMILY's List endorsing anti-semitism, racism and homophobia?

Filed By Bil Browning | June 05, 2008 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: anti-Semitism, Democrat primaries, election 2008, homophobic behavior, Nikki Tinker, racism, Steve Cohen, Tennessee

EMILY's List, known for funding female candidates for public office, has two main qualifications for getting their endorsement. You have to be female and you have to be pro-choice. The organization recently endorsed Nikki Tinker in her run for Congress from Tennessee.

Tinker is running against sitting Representative Steve Cohen, a fellow Democrat. Cohen is one of the most liberal members of Congress with a history of supporting pro-choice and LGBT issues. Why would EMILY's List work to defeat an incumbent Congressman with a history of working in favor of their chosen issue? The answer has to be sexism; he's a man. No other explanation can possibly make sense.

After all, Tinker's campaign has been engaging in one of the most vitriolic anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic campaigns in Tennessee history. Black Baptist ministers have publicly called for Cohen's defeat because of his race, a flier declaring "Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus" has been circulated throughout Memphis, and Tinker's campaign has refused to denounce or repudiate these tactics. EMILY's List has invested resources in this campaign - and they did in 2006 too.

"In 2006, EMILY's List endorsed Tinker and spent $500,000 on her behalf in the form of negative direct mail pieces with scores of lies about Cohen's record," Cohen campaign director Jerry Austin told me. Austin suggested that more of the same could be expected before the August 7th primary. One flier condemned Cohen for missing a few votes as a state legislator, but neglected to mention that the Congressman was in the hospital recovering from an illness.

The anti-Semitic flier

The Memphis Commercial Appeal started their editorial on the anti-Semitic flier with this scathing opening:

flyer.jpgWhat does Nikki Tinker think about anti-Semitic literature being circulated that might help her unseat 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen in the Democratic primary next August?

A fair question, which Tinker declined to answer this week after a flier stating that "Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus" began circulating in Memphis.

The question goes to the character of the woman who wants to represent the 9th District, and 9th District voters deserve an answer. But Tinker declined to return a phone call about the flier.

Tinker spokesperson Cornell Belcher commented to the paper, "We'd be interested in denouncing this sort of nonsense as well but, again, we haven't seen it," and eventually Tinker did acknowledge the document. The flier's author is an African-American minister from a Tennessee town outside of her district, so she claimed that she couldn't do anything about it.

Racial politics and homophobia

The Anti-Defamation League says that the flier "attempts to incite tension" between the African-American community and Jews. A local television news report on the racial overtones to this race took Tinker to task. This election has devolved into racial politics at it's worst with another Baptist minister declaring:

"He's not black and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line," said Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. "I don't care how people try to dress it up, it always comes down to race and he can't know what it's like to be black."

African-American Baptist ministers seem to be at the bottom of most of these racial overtones. The Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association is a strong backer of the Tinker campaign. The MBMA is known for blatantly homophobic statements. The National Black Justice Coalition recently showcased one MBMA press release that reads in part:

Mr. Matthew Shepherd, as unfortunate as his death was, was not killed because he was gay, he was killed by two (2) fellow drug abusers who wanted his money for more drugs.

Less than one percent of the 800,000 thousand plus aggravated assaults took place against American citizens because of sexual orientation...

We go on record that we detest the alignment of African-Americans with homosexuals and lesbians as being equal. There is absolutely nothing immoral about being African-American.

The MBMA recently invited Representative Cohen to a gathering to address the ministers over his vote in favor of hate crimes legislation. The meeting turned so racist and volatile that the ministers apologized to Cohen for the actions of some of their members.

After the meeting Cohen told the Commercial Appeal, "I was not treated the way a congressman or an elected official or an invited guest should have been treated. It was supposed to be my time to come and address this issue. I never expected anything like this. This all about LaSimba Gray and Nikki Tinker. It's about a small group trying to find a wedge issue that they hope will get Tinker elected."

Representative Cohen's record on LGBT issues

The MBMA also opposed any recognition of same-sex relationships and opposes non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation or gender identity. Representative Cohen opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and co-sponsored the trans-inclusive version of ENDA.

"Name one bill relating to gay and lesbian issues that Congressman Steve Cohen voted wrong," challenged Austin in response to the EMILY's List endorsement of Tinker.

"The answer," Austin continued, "is zero".

"As the most liberal and supportive member in the Tennessee Senate and now as the most liberal and supportive member of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, Steve Cohen's record of fighting for gay and lesbian issues has been disrespected by EMILY's List, again," Austin stated.

He continued, "Tinker has stated that her Bible does not allow her to support certain gay and lesbian issues. She is supported by many homophobic preachers and has never denounced their outrageous statements. Many of these pastors have stated that they do not oppose Cohen because he is white or Jewish (wink, wink) but because of his stand on moral issues like choice and gay rights."

Cohen's Fundraising Director, Bryce Timmons, went even further.

"The Congressman has an A+ record on every issue EMILY's List is concerned with. He's been out front and won awards from Planned Parenthood. Congressman Cohen is responsible for including sexual orientation in every peice of LGBT legislation introduced in TN. He did that. As a state senator he was the guy who made sure sexual orientation was included in every piece of Tennessee anti-discimination legislation. Steve Cohen put it there - and continued proposing it when it was shot down," he said.

"He's made numerous speeches where he's repeatedly said he doesn't understand how anyone could be a Democrat and not stand up for everyone's civil libertieis. Steve is the guy for these issues in Tennessee."

Timmons recalled attending a 2006 house party for Tinker's campaign where he asked her specifically about her stance on Proposition 1, Tennessee's proposed marriage amendment. The amendment passed. Timmons paraphrased Tinker's response: "As an attorney I fully respect people's contract rights. I'll draw up a contract for any two people with regard to property rights. But as a Christian I believe marriage is between a man and woman."

"Half of her supporters are running a racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic campaign. The rumor has been floated that Steve is 'too gay' to represent them. He's good on gay issues and has never been married so they had to start rumors about his sexuality. He's been taking the heat for it. That's the campaign she's running. She's allowing her proxies to go out and say things that are defamatory and absurd and then attacking us for taking positions. At election time that's going to shine through," Timmons stated.

Does gender trump race, religion and sexual orientation?

The Black Agenda Report editorialized in a piece entitled "When NOT to Vote Black (at least in Memphis),":

The unfinished African American journey out of Jim Crow and its narrow political mindset has reached a critical juncture in Memphis, Tennessee. There, in the city's 60 percent Black Ninth Congressional District, a first-term white incumbent whose voting record would place him solidly in the political bosom of the Congressional Black Caucus, is challenged by a young Black female corporate operative - an acolyte of Harold Ford, Jr., the worst Black congressman in modern history.
...
It is a perfect storm of corruption: Nikki Tinker, a physically attractive but intellectually vapid lawyer for regional boss-man Northwest Airlink/Pinnacle Airlines - whose principal duty is to keep unions in check - backed by a gang of gay-baiting preachers who never saw a Republican Faith-Based Initiative check they wouldn't cash. If elected, Tinker can be expected to act as a surrogate for her sponsor, Harold Ford, Jr., the Bush-loving former representative of the district, unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate, and now nominal chairman of the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
...
Since his swearing-in in January of this year, Cohen has voted his Black district's interests as diligently as 23 of the 40 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, earning an 80 percent grade (a "B") on the CBC Monitor's latest Report Card. Six Black congresspersons scored lower than Cohen, eleven higher. In contrast, the CBC Monitor named Harold Ford, Jr. "Lawn Jockey Emeritus" for consistently ranking at the bottom of every Black congressional class he attended since the watchdog group began tracking votes in September, 2005. In fact, Ford veered sharply to the right in his second term, in 1998, which means Cohen is the best - and "Blackest" - congressman the Ninth District has had in nearly a decade, and as progressive a representative as most Blacks on Capitol Hill.

However, literally nobody but the CBC Monitor keeps methodical track of such things, so Cohen must resort to behavior that some might consider, pandering. He has issued a document called "Steve Cohen's Position on the Covenant with Black America"; applied to join the Congressional Black Caucus but withdrew after noting the resulting discomfort among CBC members; and takes every opportunity to ceremonially show allegiance to the majority of his constituents. But most importantly, he votes correctly most of the time, and is careful to display a range of issues-positions on his web site, to prove it.

If racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism are the hallmarks of Tinker's campaign, why is EMILY's List endorsing her? The answer can't be simply that she's pro-choice. Cohen is the incumbent who already votes in favor of a woman's right to choose. He has built up experience and connections that are more valuable than a freshman Congresswoman wouldn't have. This isn't a primary where there is no incumbent so they would automatically endorse the female candidate.

The answer has to lie in Tinker's gender. That amounts to sexism and, supposedly, EMILY's List was created to help end gender inequality. Perhaps someone needs to remind the org that they also represent lesbians and Jewish women. After all, they seem to have overlooked that minor detail.

EMILY's List should retract their endorsement immediately and ask for the return of any money contributed to Tinker's campaign. Instead of providing funding and attacking the Congressman on her behalf, they should denounce a campaign besmirched with anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia.

If you'd like to help offset EMILY's List's endorsement, you can donate to Representative Cohen's campaign.

Calls to the Tinker campaign and EMILY's List about this issue were not returned.


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Great points.

I remember back in 2000, when Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords was running for re-election to the Senate. His Democratic opponent was a gay Democrat. Jeffords had a good record on all of the issues, and was one of the few GOP Senators to speak up for gay rights. HRC took the step of endorsing both men and caught a lot of flack for it. I think it was the right thing to do. If GOPers support gay rights, they already get slammed from the right, we shouldn't slam them again from the left simply because of party affiliation.

Emily's list should focus Republican held seats.

And we wonder why the Democratic Party can't unite?

They from every thing I have ever seen or heard are all about women only not the right person to do the job.

Mary Smith | June 5, 2008 9:48 PM

With the advent of Obama, there will be a lot more black anti-Semitism. He was Farrakhan's man in Chicago as well as Wright's. Look for Tinker's ilk burgeoning all over America's black areas.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 5, 2008 10:34 PM

Equal opportunity bigotry.

Thomas Van Orden | June 5, 2008 11:28 PM

You quote the racist supremacist and thoroughly discredited ADL? That's where you lost me.

Also, when blacks, a disadvantaged minority, actually get decent representation from their government for a few decades, then I'll listen to these ridiculous charges of "reverse racism." Last I checked, Jewish Americans were extremely over-represented in American government, more than any other group.

Wilson46201 | June 5, 2008 11:31 PM

So there's finally a white man with the balls to stand up against the women and sexism of Emilys List! Maybe next a ringing denunciation of the racism of the NAACP and Urban League? Don't forget the homophobia of the Victory Fund - do you know they only endorse LGBT candidates? Shocking!!!

Wilson, so you believe that these racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic attacks should be over looked? Or is just because I'm a white guy that I'm not allowed to call out racism, homophobia and anti-semitism from a black female?

Should we have told Kanye West to STFU when he criticized President Bush? After all, he's not white - so how can he claim racism behind New Orleans? What Cindy Sheehan? She's just a woman - so how dare she criticize a man? Maybe the Jews should have kept their mouths shut during the centuries and not criticized their tormentors...

The Victory Fund, I doubt, would endorse a racist or anti-Semite. And I doubly doubt that they'd back a challenger to a Democratic incumbent who's one of the most liberal, pro-gay Congressmen. Hell, they didn't back Jim Neal, an openly gay candidate and Bilerico contributor, against his primary opponent in the North Carolina Senate race. There's a huge difference between quietly doing nothing and endorsing. The groups you mention aren't working to defeat their allies.

EMILY's List is.

Has EMILY's List responded in any way?

EMILY's List did not respond to my e-mails or phone calls, John. The Tinker campaign didn't either - although Tinker's phone went straight to voicemail (which sounded like a cell phone voicemail).

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Bil. I'm really shocked about this. EMILY's List is supposed to only endorse pro-choice *Democratic* women, not just pro-choice women. That mandate means that there is an implied support of pro-choice Democrats. Rep. Cohen has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, so there shouldn't be any question about his pro-choice credentials.

As a Democratic organization, EMILY's list shouldn't be endorsing primary challenges to incumbent pro-choice Democrats. It doesn't make any sense to waste valuable resources on a race that doesn't advance your cause.

Emily's List apparently backed Tinker in 2006, but this time hesitated for a good long while as supporters of Cohen lobbied against another Tinker endorsement.
http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?oid=oid%3A44046

Cohen's comparison of Hillary Clinton to the crazed homicidal Glenn Close character in the movie Fatal Attraction probably didn't help his cause with Emily's List, but he did apologize.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/04/AR2008060403722.html

Bil, this is a publication. You could choose to officially endorse candidates in editorials. I realize that you've already done that in essence. But if you do it formally, the campaign can use the endorsement to publicize as it sees fit.

You are correct, Rory. As of right now, I could.

However - we're currently working out status as a corporate entity. We're going between not-for-profit and a corporation - we're trying to look at all of our options. I wouldn't want to do anything to jeapordize that.

Also, with 60-some contributors it's hard for me to endorse any candidate as "the blog." While I'm the founder and owner, it doesn't seem fair for one person to do the endorsing while the other 60 just come along for the ride. What if they're working for the opposite campaign (not in this case, but it could happen) or the org they work for has endorsed the challenger? It could easily be a sticky wicket, so we've avoided that for now.

Personally, I'd endorse Cohen in a heartbeat. But Bilerico Project? Not that easy unfortunately.

Well, obviously you have to work within the bounds of your legal status, Bil. But as far as uninimity of opinion, newspapers have separate editorial boards from the rest of their staff writers who don't necessarily agree with them.

In any case, you can take into account (and should), the ramifications of any given endorsement without making a blanket policy to do none. After all, you wouldn't be obliged to endorse in all instances.

I hate blanket policies about pretty much anything. There's always room for individual judgment. Just sayin'. ;-)

While I don't agree with Emily's List sponsoring this candidate, I don't agree with calling it "sexism" that Emily's List chose sponsoring a female candidate over a male candidate. Sexism and other forms of oppression are systems of hatred that the group with power leverages over the group without. It's impossible for a women to use sexism against a man. Do I think that Emily's List should be endorsing Tinker? No. Should we call out Emily's List sexist for doing it? No. But should we hold them accountable for supporting a candidate who is running a hateful campaign? Absolutely.

I agree with most of your post except the use of the term "sexist" to describe the decision of Emily's list. It is a bad decision and should be revisited, but lets remember that sexism is institutional and that makes it still a male domain. You can't talk about "sexism" on the part of women unless we were starting from a place of institutional equality. Just like black people being bigoted isn't really "racism" its just individual bigotry, an organization's decision to choose a woman offer a man can't really be sexist, but it can be wrong. You also forgot to mention Steve Cohen's Glenn Close remark, which really did him in and he needs to understand why. If he were to demonstrate a true understanding of why that was such a problem, then he deserves the endorsement.

It's also worth noting that EMILY's List has only THREE times in their history endorsed against a sitting Democratic incumbent. For them to break with their precedent (which is not to challenge pro-choice Democratic incumbents) to endorse against a 100% pro-choice, progressive Democrat who is only vulnerable in his district because of racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism is extremely disappointing and undefensible.

I really do understand the nuanced method of referring to "institutional" impetus for referring to "sexism" or "racism" or even "ageism." But, we neglect that when it comes to "homophobia" and "transphobia."

I also understand exactly where Bil is coming from and as a woman I agree with him 110%. In this case, my sisters are being quite sexist when it comes to their support of Nikki Turner.

That she is black does not make her incapable of hating or stirring hatred in the black community for Jews, whites, other women or men. Obviously, in order to get elected she seems quite willing to use any and all of those hatreds to promote herself. On the face of it, in my book, that disqualifies her as a candidate immediately and without question.

A lot of women forbear voting for a particular woman when there is a quality male in a position of elected responsibility who has done an excellent job of "tending our interests."

Her skin-color, no more than his either qualifies or disqulaifies her for an elected post. The "quality of her character" does disqualify her. She openly shows, just like Boss Crump and Harold Ford, Jr., that her character is sorely lacking. Whether or not she has an "institutional" framework behind her that perpetuates the "ism" that applies to what she is doing.

Bil, you are absolutely spot-on. I'm ashamed of EMILY's list in this regard. I'd love to see our Congress and Senate filled with women of good characters, good hearts and a 100% liberal voting records. But not at the expense of seeing any of them use such dispicable hate-mongering to achieve that.

To use such tactics discounts the qulaities of good characters, good hearts and a 100% liberal voting records.

That is the bottom-line in this matter.

Allan Brauer | June 6, 2008 1:53 PM

Thank you for bringing this shocking information to my attention.

I have just contributed to Rep. Cohen's campaign.

Here are contact numbers for Emily's List. Call today!

Washington, DC office: Phone: (202) 326-1400
Ask for Ellen Malcolm, President, Emily's List

San Francisco, CA office: Phone: (415) 658-0700

You just love stirring up the controversy, don't you, Bil?

Now we know what this country has turned into. A group of a... h...s which do not give a d... about our constitution laws and equality for people.

I am tired of the level of racism in the black community. According to the logic of these black ministers, since I am a white man I should only vote for white men. We talk about black districts, but what about white districts?

If people want equality, it has to be across the board. No more Emily's List. No more "black districts." These ministers are not about equality, and obviously Emily's list isn't either.

Bil I really have to agree with Sam here. It doesn't seem like Emily's List has made a real great decision, but you calling it "sexist" REALLY rubs the wrong way. It's like when white people complain that affirmative action is "reverse racism." It's just not the same thing. Sexism Against Men! Oh NO!

Yes, it is absolutely because you're a white man that you cannot accuse Emily's List of sexism. But not because only people from the same background can accuse people of certain -isms. All the other examples you gave in your response to Wilson were of the oppressed critisising their oppressors. I'm sorry, but you as a man, you cannot claim sexism from a female organization. As a man, whether you participate in oppression or oppose it, you are in the group of the oppressor. As Sulis says, an individual choice of an organization to support a woman over a man is not the same as centuries of institutionalized oppression of women. Now, that doesn't mean that it's a great decision. And it doesn't mean that what Tinker's doing is great either. I'm not saying that we should overlook it. However, your decision to label this as "sexism" gives (perhaps the mistaken impression) that you have little grasp of what sexism actually entails. Especially coming from a blog where I already feel a certain amount of gender inequity.

Sara: This was my reply on Daily Kos (where several others brought up this point and they argued about for almost 400 comments already!):

Seriously - because this just doesn't jive for me...

I stand behind what I wrote about this being a case of sexism.

They don't just endorse women. They have screening criteria and only endorse pro-choice women - 99.9% of which are progressive. In this case, they endorsed a pro-choice woman who uses racist, etc campaign tactics against a pro-choice man.

So if you look at this from a political benefit POV:

Both man and woman are pro-choice. No gain here in flipping the seat.
Female runs racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic campaign. Man does not. I'd say "progressive" goes to the man.
What else is different between them? One is a man and the other is a woman.

If I chose the man because he's a man, wouldn't that be sexism? So how is choosing the woman just because she's a woman not sexism? Sexism is giving a preference based on gender.

I'm not saying they are being misogynistic - that's when a man oppresses a woman. I don't think women can be misogynistic. They can, however, be sexist. We all can be - no matter how evolved we consider ourselves...

"If I chose the man because he's a man, wouldn't that be sexism? So how is choosing the woman just because she's a woman not sexism? Sexism is giving a preference based on gender."

are women's colleges inherently sexist organizations then? are black colleges inherently racist? no, clearly not, because they are working to give voice, power, and opportunity to a group that have been INSTITUTIONALLY oppressed because of their gender or race. i'm not saying these organizations are perfect (classism, transphobia, homophobia etc), but they are not sexist/racist because of their admission policies.

i'm really not disagreeing with you for the most part. From what you've said it seems like Emily's List made a crappy decision when they should have just kept their mouths shut and not endorsed anyone if they're not going to endorse men.

i'm not saying that Emily's List didn't choose Tinker because she's a woman. Clearly that's exactly why they chose her. But sexism is not just simply "giving a preference based on gender." Sexism is giving an unfair, unearned PRIVILEGE to those ALREADY IN POWER based upon their gender. men are ALREADY IN POWER, therefore a man claiming sexism against him just comes off as absurd. unfairness, sure. but sexism, no.

What I disagree with is you labeling this as "sexism". It does not sit well with me as a woman for you to complain that a women's organization is "being sexist" against a man. Has this man grown up with people shouting gender-based slurs at him as he's walked down the street? Has he constantly been made to feel like he has to prove that he can do things well (from his academic achievements to his taste in music) "despite being a guy?" Is "being manly" considered a insult? Does he decide not to go to bars alone at night because he's been taught from day one that if he does, he's at risk of being raped? Does he feel that the onus for preventing his own rape rests on HIS head, instead of that of his potential attacker? Has he been bombarded from childhood with stories of "the first man to become a pilot," "the first man to run for president," "the first man to go to Harvard," which serve to remind him that it is an exception to the rule when men achieve success (or even normally accepted life goals)?

No. He most likely has not. He has not *grown up* being exposed to sexism against him, and he does not have to cope with a society which still firmly entrenches itself in centuries of gender-based oppression. He, as a man, may not claim that history of oppression -- just as I, as a white woman, may not claim "reverse-racism" when the black teachers in my low-income 99% black elementary school are more respected, trusted, and promoted by the administration than I am. It would be absolutely absurd for me to accuse them of racism.

THAT is why it is not sexist for Emily's List to endorse Tinker. Yes, by all means, it's a shitty, unfair decision. They should not have endorsed her. But that endorsement does not reek of a tradition of stamping men underfoot, because there is no such tradition. It certainly DOES seem to reek of a tradition of antisemitism and homophobia. But not sexism.

I am a pro-choice, openly gay woman who believes that we need more Democratic pro-choice women in office. That's why for years I gave Emily's List $100/month. But back in 04, Emily's List endorsed Inez Tannenbaum, who ran for Senate in South Carolina on a platform that included supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment. I told Ellen Malcolm then that I would not continue contributing to Emily's List and instead would choose my candidates personally. And this latest news makes me very pleased that I have not given Emily's List a penny ever since. And I never will. I should not have to choose between my being pro-choice and supporting equal rights for my community.

The fact that Joe Solmonese used to work for Emily's List would be strikes 1 and 2. Their failure to back Cohen, who's one of the best new faces in Congress, is #3.

Yeeerrrrrr owwwwwttttt!

memphisbiz | June 10, 2008 10:42 AM

To be fair, you should consider some other things about the TN 9th Congressional campaign. Cohen ran knowing that he could take advantage of a split field of African American candidates in the primary. Perhaps with all the charges of "reverse racism" we should wonder how Cohen received 90% of the White vote in the primary. While Tinker has been no model candidate, to ascribe anti-semitism, racism, and homophobia to her is simply not stating the facts. The people who you are charging as her surrogates are not involved with her campaign, and, quite frankly, would probably endorse any African American candidate who had a chance of winning the office. In a city where African Americans have been so marginalized in many respects throughout history, it should be understandable why they cling so strongly to their political power. That's the only power they have.