Chuck Wolfe

Who's afraid of equality?

Filed By Chuck Wolfe | July 12, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: gay activists, gay rights, LGBT politics, LGBT rights

If you follow LGBT politics closely, you know the polling numbers by heart. Two thirds of Americans believe same-sex couples deserve legal protections in the form of civil unions or marriage. About 75 percent believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military. Even more say employers shouldn't be able to fire people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the last decade these numbers have moved in only one direction--toward fairness and inclusion. And yet, Congress still hasn't enacted significant protections for LGBT Americans. Why?

Fear, mostly. Fear that despite their distinct minority status, anti-LGBT extremists wield inordinate power when directly challenged. Swat that nest, the thinking goes, and the hornets will swarm. Incumbents, especially this year, aren't eager to add perceived obstacles to reelection.

LGBT activists often debate whether this fear is rational. On one side are Beltway types who see it up close every day. It's the elephant in the room at every conversation with a moderate Democratic senator from the Midwest, a gay Republican staffer for a House member, and even White House strategists.

Whether one believes it's rational or not, this fear exists, and it's part of working in LGBT politics in Washington. It must be understood, or the conversation stops.

On the other side are those who see our current power position slipping away without a lot to show for years of work. They see those polling numbers, pro-equality majorities in Congress and the most pro-equality president in history. It's fair to say they don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether a moderate will get reelected to Congress, and they're tired of being told to wait just a little bit longer to be treated equally. We've all waited long enough.

These two sides can and do work together, but they can also sometimes work against each other. It's easy to fight in front of a similarly-minded audience these days, so the rhetoric is too often overheated.

But this debate misses something important. What about the fear? What about the nature of the fear that's keeping elected officials from doing what they know is right? How do we remove that obstacle to equality?

Someone once said fear is just an acronym for "false evidence appearing real." When it comes to anti-LGBT extremists, there may be something to that.

Few lawmakers who've voted to end discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity have been defeated by anti-LGBT challengers. That's not to say there isn't a hardcore group of voters who will work to oust pro-equality politicians, but that group may not be large enough to matter very much in many places.

There will always be elected officials whose constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to LGBT equality. And with few exceptions, those politicians will fall in line whether they personally agree with the voters or not. But public opinion has shifted so dramatically in recent years it's hard to justify caving to minority opinion in more moderate districts.

Our job as advocates is to come together to find a solution, address the fear and create the conditions to win.


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Like many others, the author ignores the political reality that polling must be done on a State-by-State basis to have any effect on elected officials.

In 23 States the majority of their residents are anti-gay. That defines the US Senate and to a lesser extent the House.

The "false evidence appearing real" is this illogical belief that national polls should define positions of members of Congress. Politicians have voted in agreement with their constituents 95% of the time.

The obvious conclusion is to change the minds of constituents and demonstrate that change on a State-by-State basis.

THAT is the "solution" and something the "Victory Fund" should know. It isn't complicated.

"In 23 states the majority of their residents are anti-gay."

Wow, that's a loaded statement.

I don't think Chuck discounts state-by-state polling, and his argument that we need to find a way to change minds still stands.

Chuck asks two questions:

1) "What about the nature of the fear that's keeping elected officials from doing what they know is right? 2) How do we remove that obstacle to equality?"

1) Keeping them from doing what they know is "right" is NOT part of what a politician considers. They are motivated by getting elected and getting re-elected.

2) That obstacle is removed by changing the minds of constituents and demonstrating that with State-specific polling data - their constituents or "employers."

He correctly suggests that politicians mirror constituents by saying:

"There will always be elected officials whose constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to LGBT equality. And with few exceptions, those politicians will fall in line whether they personally agree with the voters or not."

Places like Oklahoma and Alabama will take decades to change. But out of those 23 anti-gay States, half can be changed in a few short years.

Finally, he concludes with a call-to-action:

"Our job as advocates is to come together to find a solution, address the fear and create the conditions to win."

SEE ABOVE.

What about the fear? What about the nature of the fear that's keeping elected officials from doing what they know is right? How do we remove that obstacle to equality?

Work to remove elected officials from office who are only craven enough to work toward their own elections while ignoring the actual important issues.

As I've said before, if a politician isn't willing to work to help me keep my job based solely on my job performance, why should I be willing to vote to keep their job safe? Instead, I'll do what they can't seem to comprehend; I'll vote based on their job performance.

John Visser | July 13, 2010 3:31 PM

Chuck,

Part of the problem in this fear based world is us addressing our own fear - the fear of the right-wing attack machine.

The way to address the political homophbia of our elected representatives is to place in them the fear of losing an entire constituancy group (5% of the total voters who identify as LGBT should roughly equal about 8% of the democratic base). If we could muster the courage to not be afraid of the GOP and threaten (with the courage to see it through) to vote Republican in November en masse, the Dems would crap in their pants.

I know it is a really really bitter pill to swallow for most LGBT voters, but at least we could stay home on lection day along with keeping the ATM closed.

We will never have power until we prove we have power. Presently, the Dems view as a loyal puppy neither willing or able to change its relationship with its master.

John Visser
New Haven, CT