The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

What About Our Democratic Friends?

Reading the news this week caused me to have a flashback to my school days. I’ve written before about the implications of Obama’s candidacy, being underwhelmed Democratic line-up for ’08 thus far, and having already lowered expectations on gay issues for the next few years. But seeing two of the front running Democrats not just trip over themselves running away from gay issues, but also come off sounding like their right wing counterparts reminded me of something I wrote when I asked what the Democrats’ strategy on gay issues might be.

I find myself returning the playground analogy; probably something unavoidable in this situation, for a gay man who came out and grew up smack in the middle of the bible belt. Hearing the Republican strategy is reminiscent of hearing the school bully say he’s gonna pound you good after the bell rings.

And sure enough, he’s waiting for you after school. You know he’s big. Too big to take on by yourself. But you have friends, right? They know how big the bully is. Big enough to pretty much control the whole school. But they’re your friends, right? They might get banged up, but surely they’re not going to stand by and watch you take a beating right?


Well. If nothing else, it’s good to know who your friends are. Right?

It didn’t surprise me to hear about Gen. Peter Pace’s comments on morality and gays in the military.

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” Pace said in a wide-ranging discussion with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.

“As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior,” Pace said.

Nor was I surprised by Sen. Sam Brownback’s statement in support of Pace’s comments. Brownback is a candidate for the Republican nomination in ’08, and given his history on gay issues it’s no surprise he’d jump at the chance to say something like this. (Even though he sidestepped the issue of gay adoption a couple of months ago.)

The moral behavior of members of the Armed Forces is of the highest importance, particularly during this time of war. The question is whether personal moral beliefs should disqualify an individual from positions of leadership in the U.S. military? We think not. General Pace’s recent remarks do not deserve the criticism they have received. In fact, we applaud General Pace for maintaining a personal commitment to moral principles.

I held my breath and waited for the inevitable question to be put to Democratic candidates, and to hear their answers. It didn’t take long, and it was upon hearing their answers that I had my flashback middle school.

Sometimes you get to thinking your friends may find it inconvenient to be your friends. Maybe they have an overblown perception of the bully’s popularity, despite evidence to the contrary. And even if he isn’t very popular any more, the bully has a posse that gave him his power, and they’d like to win over that posse for themselves. So, if that posse doesn’t like you much, your friends might have to put some distance between you and them.…

So, your friends won’t sit next to you in the lunchroom anymore. But if they make new friends at the cool kids table, they’ll say nice things about you. Maybe that’ll get the bully and his posse to ease up on you, right?


How else to describe a response like this from HIllary?

Sen. Hillary Clinton sidestepped a question about whether she thinks homosexuality is immoral Wednesday, less than two weeks after telling gay-rights activists she was “proud” to stand by their side.

Clinton was asked the question by ABC News, in the wake of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace’s controversial comment that he believed homosexual acts were immoral.

“Well, I’m going to leave that to others to conclude,” she said.

Right. Proud to stand by our side until it seems politically expedient not to.

And what’s this “leave that to others to decide”? Others like who? Peter Pace and Sam Brownback? Matt Taibbi gets to the point.

Let me get this straight. Hillary Clinton wants the most powerful office in the world, but she can’t make her own decision about the morality of homosexuality? She’s got to “leave that to others?”

Thanks, Hillary. I remember back in ’92, when your husband stood in front of an audience of gay & lesbian supporters and said “I have a vision for America, and that vision includes you.” I guess you’ve learned your lesson about that from the ensuing battle which yielded the very policy that Gen. Pace was defending in his comments. You know, the one you’ve denounced recently and the one that even your own husband said was a bad idea? (Though at the time it probably saved his nascent presidency.)

Next up, Obama. And, given his record and his hard work in winning over evangelical voters, Obama’s non-answer shouldn’t have surprised me either.

On Wednesday, Newsday repeatedly asked Obama if same-sex relationships were immoral.

“I think traditionally the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman has restricted his public comments to military matters,” said Obama, leaving Capitol Hill. “That’s probably a good tradition to follow.”

At this point, I’m all the way back in the 6th grade. Let me explain.

Growing up gay, in Georgia, during the eighties wasn’t easy. For most of my middle school years I had few if any friends among my classmates. Many of my peers just didn’t know what to do with me as a friend. An out, gay (not to mention black) 13-year-old? Granted, it was Georgia and this was during the Reagan era — when the Moral Majority was just getting started — and almost nobody could wrap their brains around that reality. It just didn’t jibe with anything they believed about the way the world was supposed to work. (Mind you, it didn’t jibe with anything I was taught to believe either, but I had to get over it.)

By that point, I didn’t have any male friends my age. As we all entered puberty together, what had merely seemed weird before — being decidedly “non-guy-like” and yet lingering around other guys — made them nervous; as if they knew even before I decided to come out myself. In retrospect, with my growing reputation as a “fag” — a word I’d only just heard or at least started to notice being applied to me — the few guys who at least made gestures of friendship towards me had to consider the possibility of “guilt by association.”

I had maybe on close female friend at that time. A devout Catholic, she eventually decided she couldn’t be friends with me anymore after I came out to her. Admittedly I was probably overly enthusiastic to finally have someone I could talk to about what I was feeling. But it was still strange when she became the sympathetic figure after our friendship ended, and I was somehow the unreasonable one to be upset about her decision notto be my friend anymore because of her religious beliefs.

Never mind having to deal with the fact that the people who were supposed to be my friends seemed to believe the same things about me as the people who regularly made my life hell. My friends had more common ground with my enemies than with me, or at least enough to warrant getting shed of an inconvenient, “weird boy” as a friend.

As I read about Hillary and Obama’s responses, and considered they’re about as gay-friendly as we’re likely to get in a candidate in ’08, the cassette deck in my brain started playing snippets of the soundtrack from those days, repeating the choruses over and over. Like this one from Whodini.


How many of us have them?


Ones we can depend on?

And of course, this one from Jodi Watley.

Friends will let you down.

Friends wont be around.

When you need them most

Where are your friends?

And the ultimate question from TLC.

What about your friends?

Will they stand their ground?

Will they let you down again?

What about your friends are they gonna be low down?

Will they ever be around or will they turn their backs on you?

Old questions, but valid ones in light of above. And I think Michael’s response is equally valid.

You either think it’s immoral, or you don’t. And if you’re afraid to answer the question, you’re not worth my vote. I’d rather vote for someone who took a stand than for someone who is too chickenshit to answer. …

It was a simple question.

It was a simple question. Skeptical Brotha got it right.

It is a vile and patently ridiculous prejudice that is grounded in a knuckle-dragging ignorance that is almost funny. Almost-until you consider that people are fired, beaten, harassed, murdered, commit suicide, and denied their constitutional right to be left alone. This happens to people when someone either mistakenly or accurately perceives them to be gay or lesbian.

… General Pace’s bigotry sends the message that gay and lesbian people cannot serve their country in the military but if they’re really smart, they can become an Ambassdor setting foreign policy. It is really ridiculous.

Coretta Scott King had a message for homophobes: Homophobia is like racism and anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity, and personhood.

Carla got it right over at Preemptive Karma. (That her point should be lost on Obama, of all people, speaks volumes.)

Using the Bible to subjugate an entire set of human beings is immoral. Using the church and religious beliefs to do it is a shameful and disgusting act. Denying these people equal rights under the law is unforgivable.

And there’s an even better question that could have served an answer.

What would happen if every minute and every dollar spent limiting the rights of gays and lesbians was instead spent on prosecuting sexual harassment, rape and child molestation?

Or spent feeding the hungry or helping the homeless, doing any number of things that would actually make someone’s life better?

Both Hillary and Obama have since “cleaned-up” their statements, clarifying that they don’t believe homosexuality is immoral. But I agree with Chris that their less-than-artful dodges of the question indicative of a deeper problem.

It took a while, but they did eventually get it right. However, I am still left with questions from the incident. It was a question with an easy answer that everyone knew was coming. Does screwing up the first response represent poor campaign management? Does it represent general recalcitrance when it comes to supporting gay rights, on either a personal or political level? Does it represent yet more Democratic fear to appear to be disagreeing with anyone in uniform in any way, shape or form?

This was a really, really easy question to answer. Screwing this one up at first has to make you wonder, at least a little bit, about both Clinton and Obama’s political instincts. Say what you want about John Edwards, but he certainly seems to say the right thing, the first time, without waiting for others to take the lead. People will write that I am an Edwards supporter, and thus biased, but quite frankly it is stuff like this that makes me an Edwards supporter. Get it right the first time. Take the lead. Don’t be so damn cautious.

So, how have we ended up with these people as the leading candidates? I’m tempted to ask the progressive netroots: Is this the best we could do? As much as I appreciate Chris’ post as well as Kos’ post, I can’t help tracing at least some of this back to a pre-2006-election attitude I noted earlier about what Democrats had to do to win, and which is still embodied in posts like this previous one from Kos.

One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin’-cetera. We don’t stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don’t have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.

And this.

… And while there are Democrats … that are less than optimal on any number of progressive issues, the entire movement benefits from having a friendly party in control.

It represents a problem that I’ve noted before: the Democratic leadership is not going to lead on our issues. Why? Because however much we might demand that they do, it won’t matter much unless our progressive friends to likewise. It seems a little too late now, given that the strategy worked well enough to win the House and Senate in ’06. The message, like it or not, has been sent and received. Why else did Hillary initially defer to nameless “others” in her initial response? (Others like Pace and Brownback have stepped up to place, and I imagine others like James Dobson would be happy to step in.) Why else did Obama sidestep the issue?

Again, back to Matt Taibbi.

In the DLC mindset, “confronting” issues head on basically means surrendering. When they say that we need to “understand” that America is a very religious country and “show respect” for people who disagree, what they really mean is we need to waffle as much as is humanly possible in the hopes that the Okies won’t guess what we really believe. In Hillary’s case, that means trying to reassure gays in one sentence by telling them that homosexuality is “who you are,” and stroking swing-vote Christians in the next by saying that you’ll “leave it to others” to conclude the issue of the morality of homosexuality.

That’s called seeing the fork in the road and taking it, folks, and on other issues it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But in this case it’s an outrageously cynical failure of leadership.

In other words, they too chickenshit to answer such an easy question correctly the first time because they haven’t been required by progressives to take the lead on the issue out of fear that doing so would come at the cost of winning.

But what have we won? If they can’t take the lead and answer the damn question now, exactly how can we expect them to respond in office the next time gay & lesbian Americans and our families are getting beat up by the other side? If we can’t choose anything else, we can choose our friends. Problem is, we get just the friends that we choose, or that we’re at least willing to settle for. Again, back to sixth grade.

And if your friends seem likely to stand by and watch you take a beating, and tell you later (when nobody else is watching or listening) what a shame they thought it was … well, then you don’t have any friends.

And, given that Hillary and Obama had to hear from the gay community (and maybe their own queer campaign staff) before they corrected themselves, if your friends have to be constantly reminded that they are your friends, hen maybe you don’t have any friends. Or maybe you have the wrong kind of friends. Or maybe they do.

Apparently, I was the wrong kind of friend to have. Either that, or I had the wrong kinds of friends. As I caught up on the news yesterday, I was reminded of that experience, because I think gays & lesbians are going to be in a similar position in the 2008 presidential election. We’re either the wrong kind of friends to have, or we have the wrong friends. It has to be one or the other when our friends believe the same things about us that our enemies do, or at least they have to pretend that they do.


  1. thanks for this. Do you remember what Sharpton had to say in his 2004 primary campaign about African-Americans who voted for Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party response to the needs of those voters?

  2. Just an observation…

    The Democratic Party will work better for all of us (that’s the big all of us…) if its positions come out of its ideals. People can move their positions if and when you can move them to the ideals that they affirm… and then show them the clear, logical path that leads to a position that they might not have leapt to.

    Simply telling someone who isn’t gay, who got carefully taught homophobia, who doesn’t know how many gay folks they know, that they ought to support gays leaves them floundering. Why? Remember, the devious part of the -isms is that they’re not out there. They’re in here, tattooed on eyelids… our brains.

    Take that person gently to the core beliefs that a party holds, that their religion holds–that all are created equal, that the first thing God demands of them is to love, that all people must have equal rights–and then walk them out towards the logical policy position.

    Great, great posting. We all have to hang together. Have to. Because there is a class of people who are primed to hang us apart, if we don’t. No, it’s more than that; they’re actively trying to divide us up, so that they can hang us apart. Pastor Niemoller’s words are applicable…

    First they came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a Communist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I was a Protestant.
    Then they came for me,
    and by that time there was no one
    left to speak up for me.

    Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945