Karen Ocamb

Will Gays Matter in '08? It's Up to Us

Filed By Karen Ocamb | September 03, 2007 7:56 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards, journalism, LGBT politics


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.

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Leland Frances | September 4, 2007 12:13 AM

I've repeatedly reread your statement, "LGBT Democrats were 76% of the vote in 2006" and can only conclude that there are some words missing to make it have any sense of reality at all. Damn those Internet gremlins!

The difference between the media's treatment of the claim about Edwards by Bob “The Curse” Shrum who has advised 8 losing Presidential candidates versus their treatment of his claim about Bill Clinton is Edwards is an active candidate and Bill is not. Even multizillion dollar media can only concentrate on so much shit-stirring at any one time.

As for the issue of the first claim itself, perhaps some other words got lost in your post that would leave a different impression, but as they appear some of them are curious and, frankly, disappointing in what seems to be your intended implications. While noting that Edward’s denied the smear by the former advisor he chose not to hire, are you suggesting that because the Shrums are friends with gay politico icon David Mixner, Mr. Shrum must be telling the truth and, therefore, Edwards is both at least a one-time homophobe and a present-day liar. Why did you fail to add that Mixner was one of the first high-profile gays to endorse Edwards? Surely that was relevant in that juxtaposition of sentences following your rehashing the Answered & Denied story above.

While he has identified Edwards’ position on Iraq as his principle reason, are we to believe that Mixner, after his very public denunciation of his longtime friend Bill Clinton over DADT, would campaign for anyone he thought was homophobic or insincere in his multilayered statements of support for various issues of gay equality including his unprecedented and unique endorsement of teaching kids in public schools to respect and value gays and gay families?

Or would other LGBT Edwards supporters from GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings or former DNC Director of LGBT Outreach, Eric Stern, or Gregory G. Simoncini, former Board Member of National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Lambda Legal, or Stephen Handwerk, Board Member of National Stonewall Democrats, or Jeff Anderson, former Co-Chair of John Kerry for President National LGBT Finance Committee, or Jeff Soukup, Board Member of GLAAD, former President and COO, PlanetOut Inc., and former Co-Chair National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, or Julie Johnson, HRC Public Policy Committee Co-Chair, or Mary Snider, HRC Board of Directors Executive Committee Member, or David Tseng, former PFLAG National Executive Director, or David Mariner, Former Out for Howard Dean Co-Chair & Founder, or Ramon Gardenhire, National Stonewall Democrats Black Caucus Co-Chair; Former DNC LGBT Deputy Outreach Director Scott Benson, or Scott Wiener, HRC Board of Directors Member; San Francisco Democratic Party Chair, or Lynne Wiggins, GLSEN National Leadership Council Member; Former HRC Board of Governors Member Ken Keechl, among others?

Just asking.

I've repeatedly reread your statement, "LGBT Democrats were 76% of the vote in 2006" and can only conclude that there are some words missing to make it have any sense of reality at all.

I understand your confusion on this one. I took it to mean that 76% of the GLBT community voted democratic in that election.

Leland Frances | September 4, 2007 10:23 AM

Thanks, Bil. That makes more sense, but it would still need "self-identified" in the mix for we all know that many gays, unfortunately, still don't feel comfortable labeling themselves as such to strangers as voting exit poll takers would be.

Thanks Leland and Bil.
Leland - you are absolutely correct. This is no excuse - but I was writing under certain assumptions - specifically that everyone knows Mixner supports Edwards.

Re the CNN poll - it's self-identified LGBT voters who accounted for 76% of the Democratic vote in 2006.

I'll update the piece for clarification.


Sorry Karen but that was a very poorly written piece, all the way around.

It is full of confusing and seemingly contradictory statements.

You might want to start over.

Leland Frances | September 4, 2007 3:08 PM

Thanks, Karen. I see that you've amplified your original post quite a bit.

Just a couple of more quibbles for clarification among those who might be unintentionally mislead by your comment. As you made clear in the full post, "Ts" weren't included in the CNN question, and the self-identified LGB responders who voted Dem only amounted to only 75%. Somehow 1% got lost in CNN's shuffle.

But far more importantly is what you also commented on. That mindboggling flip side that 24% of self-identified LGBs voted Repug. That's at least 1 % higher even than in 2004 [as you reported on PlanetOut], despite the continuing demonization of themselves by Bush and the party.

It makes one wonder how we can ever convince mainstream America if we can't convince a higher percentage of our own.

As for L’Affaire de Shrum, while both John and Elizabeth Edwards continue to dispute his memory from NINE YEARS ago, why is less attention being given to the fact that Shrum himself emphasized on “Hardball” in June that, “I think [John Edwards has] clearly evolved on that issue. I accept the notion that the evolution is genuine.” Class can you say, “Tempest in a teapot”?

As for the issue of states rights, as I’ve written elsewhere on Bilerico, any candidate’s position on Section 2 of DOMA has been made moot in all but 3 or 4 states because the rest have passed their own laws that echo it. Federal DOMA as it relates to states rights is now superfluous.

And with the expected continuing Democratic majority in both houses, it is highly unlikely that a President Hillary would get into a “legislative pinch” regarding any bill to ban marriage equality by Constitutional amendment given that previous attempts were defeated even under Repug control. No bill—no Bill.

I'm curious as to who the "some of us" are who "agree with the traditionalist thinking that marriage should be left up to the majority-rule of each state".

Just who are these "some of us" who agree that marriage rights for gays should more correctly be a states rights issue? Are these the same people who thought that inter-racial marriage laws should have been left up to each state to decide?

Because if that had been the case, there may well have been many southern states today that would still bar inter-racial marriages.

What rubbish. This is exactly what the Constitution was designed to do. To protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.