Michael Crawford

RNC Chair Michael Steele on LGBT Rights

Filed By Michael Crawford | January 31, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Michael Steele

There are times when you have to look at the Republican National Committee and think "Bless their little hearts."

That's exactly what came to mind as I watched RNC members elect African-American former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele as its new chairman. I mean who would have thought that after six rounds of voting the Republicans who have made playing the anti-POC race card an art form would choose a "moderate" Black man over Katon Dawson, chair of the South Carolina GOP and, until recently a member of an all white country club?

They've clearly seen the need in the Obama era to slap a new coat of paint on the tattered Republican brand. But let's be clear that's all it is: a new coat of paint on the same old anti-LGBT rhetoric.

Says Jon Hoadley, Executive Director of National Stonewall Democrats:

Although there were candidates that were not selected for RNC Chair with stronger anti-equality credentials than Michael Steele, which shows hope for the party, we should carefully consider his record as the Republican Party moves forward. The Republican Party has a troubling history of anti-equality activism. Unfortunately, Michael Steele has been a part of that record. Each time that he has promised voters a new tone in politics he has also taken steps to solidify the anti-LGBT positions of his own party. Voters should be very wary of his new role as Republican National Committee Chair. While the priority of Stonewall Democrats is on improving the Democratic Party and electing more pro-equality Democrats, we will keep a watchful eye on the GOP during this time.

Here is a Cliff Notes version of Michael Steele on LGBT rights:

Steele Said He Couldn't Define Gay Rights. The Baltimore Sun reported in July 2002 that, "Steele balked when asked about gay rights, saying he has trouble with the concept if not precisely defined. 'There's a lot of rights that already protect white gay men,' he said." [Baltimore Sun, 7/2/02]

Steele Said People Don't Care About Gay Rights Until They're Gay. The Maryland Gazette reported in August 2001 that, "Michael Steele, chairman of Maryland's Republican Party, gave a much more blunt assessment, saying that the issue would be decided on election day. 'Unless you're gay, you could care less about gay rights," he said. 'Unless you're a homosexual or a lesbian, it's not going to rise up on your radar screen. I'm focused on other things. You can talk about gay rights all you want, but it doesn't mean crap if you don't have a job.'" [Maryland Gazette, 8/8/01]

Steele Spoke at Rally for Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage.
The Baltimore Sun reported in January 2005 that, "About 1,000 people huddled in front of the State House yesterday to call for a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Maryland, cheering a succession of preachers and politicians - including Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele." [Baltimore Sun, 1/28/05]

Steele: Gay Marriage Is A State Issue, But Supports A Federal Amendment. In August 2004, the Washington Times reported that, "[Steele] said each state should decide the issue, but added that he supports President Bush's efforts in calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage, because some states are unwilling to act." [Washington Times, 8/26/04]


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It's interesting - a lot of Steele's arguments about gay rights sound similar to those of more radical queer activists, especially those who don't think an emphasis on marriage is warranted above other issues. Namely, "a lot of rights already protect white gay men" and "you can talk about gay rights all you want, but it doesn't mean crap if you don't have a job." I mean, in some respects, he's hit the nail on the head, right?

JessicaVonBraun | January 31, 2009 4:59 PM

I feel weird saying this, but yeah, as statements of fact, I do sort of agree with some of the things he's saying. Unless you're under the GLBT umbrella, gay rights are probably not going to be your deciding issue in an election. I don't think that I line up with his views on any of these issues, but I feel that his assessments are pretty accurate (especially "There's a lot of rights that already protect white gay men.")

"Unless you're gay, you could care less about gay rights," he said. "Unless you're a homosexual or a lesbian, it's not going to rise up on your radar screen. ..."

Once upon a time, that was exactly the attitude that most whites had toward civil rights for Blacks. Steele is saying, in effect, that he has no responsibility to be concerned about the rights of any group that he does not belong to. Very enlightening. Steele is lucky that JFK, RFK and LBJ and a sizable number of other white politicians did not take the same attitude back in the 60's.

"[Steele] said each state should decide the issue, but added that he supports President Bush's efforts in calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage, because some states are unwilling to act."

Translation: "I think every state in the Union ought to be smart enough to ban all legal recognition of same-sex couples as quickly as possible --- but since some states are slow to do this, or are going in the wrong direction, even, let's take this states' rights issue away from the states (who are obviously incompetent, because some of them disagree with me) and ban it at the federal level."

'There's a lot of rights that already protect white gay men,' he said.

I dare Mr. Steele to cite one law, either state or federal, that applies to white gay men and does not not apply to a black gay man in the same situation. (I am not saying that there isn't more prejudice against black gay men than there is against white gay men --- I am saying that this is not reflected in the actual coding of laws, as Steele implies.) He is playing the race card to imply that all gay white men have the world by the tail. Hardly.

A new face leading the same ol' party.

Yeah, I suppose some of Steele's statements can be read as "2 pomo 4 skool," but it's pretty clear where his thoughts on teh gayz are coming from when he supports FMA. There isn't much theorizing going on there.

And I find his statement about rights for white gays to be less a statement about the positioning of queer POC in the LGBT rights movement, and more just a snide insult to erase their presence. It's almost as if he just adds "white" for emphasis, to let everyone know that gay men are only white.

Because otherwise, as AJ pointed out, it doesn't make sense. In terms of flat language, there are no "white only" domestic partnerships, etc.

Otherwise, it is a good sign that the Republican party feels that they should/can nominate a black man to head their party, even though their party is basically founded on resentment towards people of color.

Maybe this is wishful thinking... Lt Gov Steele isn't a mean person. He's conservative but I think he has a sense of fairness that the right message/messenger can play to.