The Republic of T.

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

Tonight’s the Night

And tomorrow will be the morning after. For those with some degree of experience, you’ll recognize that as the time period when you wake up, rub the sleep out of your eyes, look around and wonder if putting out the night before was worth it. This time, though, it’s more in the political sense. After tonight’s first-ever presidential forum on gay and lesbian issues, sponsored by HRC and Logo (viewable online here), we’ll wake up tomorrow and — in the cold light of morning, after the excitement and stroking of the night before have faded — whether it was worth it, and just how far we want to take things from there.

I’m not in L.A. to cover this, for a lot of reasons, but I’ll be watching and listening and blogging the morning after. While waiting for tonight’s festivities to begin, I’ve been reading what some of my fellow queer bloggers have to say about tonight and why it’s important. I’m inclined to think, though, that we aren’t going to hear much beyond the same old lines. And given how many times those lines have successfully lured us into the sack with various politicos (see above), maybe this time around we’ll see things in a different light on the morning after.

Or not.

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that this forum happens, if only for the historic significance of the moment. Before it becomes routine and unremarkable, there has to be a first time. So be it. But, as Lane pointed out earlier, it’s looking like no one’s going have= to venture far beyond their comfort zones.

Here is a comment which doesn’t make me think that any candidate will be pressed towards taking positions in support of our movement toward equal rights.

The purpose of this forum is not to provide gotcha moments, because that doesn’t serve anybody well,” said Jonathan Capehart, a gay Washington Post editorial page writer who will serve as a panelist for the forum.

But you do want to get the candidates talking about these issues in a way that’s human and not overly rehearsed.

I hope the panelists will consider pressing Hillary on this point. Accordingly, I hope Hillary will show the courage to expand her position and show the LGBT community that she is truly willing to fight for equality.

Now maybe I’m taking it personally, since my question left Nancy Pelosi nonplussed. These are not “gotcha” questions, designed to trip up a candidate or catch them off guard. They are legitimate questions. That we already know the answers or non-answers we’re likely to get doesn’t asking them any less necessary. They need to be asked over and over again. It’s sad to say, but we have to keep reminding the candidates that we are real people who bear real consequences for lacking marriage equality. And we need to keep reminding them, and keep asking questions until we get real answers.

They’re uncomfortable answering these questions. Sure. They’re uncomfortable talking about us unless they’re talking to us.

The leading Democratic candidates know the drill too. They’ve got an entire inventory of ‘real moments’ and use them often to emphasize their policy point. There are names, there are faces. But gay and lesbian Americans do not have names or faces in stump speeches, debates or interviews. We are referenced only in the abstract.

Have you ever heard Hillary, Barack or John mention a name of anyone they know or have met who is gay or lesbian? Has John Edwards ever used his “Two Americas” paradigm to assess gay vs. straight America? Has Barack ever told a story about meeting with a lesbian couple (using real names) who want the right to marry and then make a direct correlation with his own parents’ struggle as an interracial couple? Has Hillary ever talked about how she would feel if Chelsea’s significant other was not Mark but Martha?

I won’t leave you in suspense. The answer is no.

It’s not that we don’t have those stories. We have them.

It’s probably the same discomfort reflected in the liberal blogosphere. How else could a bunch of liberals (progressives? Democrats?) hold a convention in Chicago without sex?

While in Chicago this week, I spent some fascinating time at the Kos Convention. There were 1500 people there working for progressive political change, most of them bloggers. I did an author hour, was interviewed for the virtual world Second Life, and went to a few sessions.

Almost every progressive cause was represented: organized labor, farm reform, immigration, internet access for the poor, universal healthcare. Dozens of political figures attended, and Hillary, Barack, and the other aspiring Democratic presidential candidates held a spirited debate.

… The convention offered everything except sex.

No, I don’t mean what people did privately after hours (insert your preferred joke here about computer geeks, sexual frustration, and online personas).

I mean there was nothing about contraception, sex education, the unfairness (and complete failure) of sex offender registries, or mandatory internet filtering in public venues.



Aside from the assumption that people shouldn’t be persecuted for loving someone of the same gender, no one talked about sexual justice as a justice issue, or sexual rights as human rights.

People still don’t connect the dots. In fact, many liberals, progressives, and feminists insist that porn, swinging, and “too much” sexuality are bad for everyone. Especially, of course, for the children.

And that’s why, we have to keep asking the question. People don’t connect the dots, and we know they don’t connect the dots because they don’t talk about what they were going to do about said persecution. What actions are suggested? What policies put forth?

And why not? Because it’s a difficult conversation to have?

When asked about a recent misunderstanding about an event planned that had to be changed, your people released the following statement:

“Hillary Clinton’s long record as a friend and ally to the LGBT community speaks for itself. As president, she will work hard to move our nation closer to the promise of fairness and equality that all Americans deserve. She looks forward to addressing the issues important to the LGBT community at the Human Rights Campaign/LOGO presidential forum next month.”

Senator Clinton? Fairness and equality for the gay and lesbian community isn’t something that will do well in the polls. It’s not some separate institution of civil unions. Please, as a person who knows about civil rights, you can’t even talk separate but equal and not twitch. We must have federally recognized gay marriage. We must repeal the ridiculous Defense of Marriage Act President Clinton signed when backed into a corner in his first term. It’s about taking leadership that will not poll well, will not look good and is unpopular.

But how unpopular is it really? In his piece on Huffington Post, Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson makes the case that it’s not as unpopular as candidates fear it will be to stand on what we hope are their values.

The public’s journey on marriage and gay people’s place in society gives candidates another reason to show courage. Americans continue to move in the direction of equality, with opposition on marriage equality lower than many believe. Perhaps most important for the candidates and their nervous consultants, a March 2007 Newsweek poll of nationwide adults found a strong majority, 59 percent, of Americans would not vote against a presidential candidate if she or he strongly supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples. According to the Task Force, one in five Americans live in states which offer some type of recognition and protection to same-sex couples — virtually none of which existed just seven years ago.

In his newly released book, already popular among Democratic presidential candidates, The Political Brain, author Drew Westen asserts, “If you want to win elections, you can’t assume your values. You have to preach them. If one side is running on values and the other side is running from them, it isn’t hard to figure out how the electorate will start thinking, feeling, and talking about values.” The values here are equality, fairness for families, commitment and love. Most of the Democratic presidential candidates affirm their belief in these values, but stop short of preaching or implementing them when it comes to policy.

The American people deserve leaders who aren’t afraid to lead

Tonight will be a chance to lead, a chance to rock our world, curl our toes, and make the morning after something we don’t have to regret later. Evan even plays a little Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives nervous pols some words to put in their mouths.

…Government should not be putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for their loved ones, nor should government create unequal classes of citizens.

America is strongest when we support all our people equally and build strong communities. Because I believe in fairness for all American families, I support the responsibilities and security of marriage for same-sex couples willing to take on that commitment.

I disagree with those who would use this question to divide the American people. The majority of Americans believe in equal rights and protections for their fellow citizens, and so do I.

Why is that hard to say? Is that what Democrats value? Because we know Republicans don’t extend the values of Evan mentions — love, commitment, fairness, freedom, equal treatment — to gay and lesbian Americans. We know the consequences of that. We have the stories of what happens to our families.

I’ve noted with some considerable satisfaction the attention currently being given by the Indianapolis Star, and reflected in recent commentary by Karen Celestino-Horseman on this site as well as Gary Welsh on Advance Indiana, to the unfortunate story concerning life partners Patrick Atkins and Brett Conrad. Together 25 years, longer than the marriages of a significant number of heterosexual couples, Brett found himself on the outside looking in when Patrick suffered an aneurysm and then a stroke. He unsuccessfully fought Patrick’s parents in court when he sought guardianship, although he ultimately was successful (for now at least) with respect to limited visitation rights.

Although not quoted in the Star’s article, Jerry and I were interviewed a couple of weeks ago by its author Melissa Patterson concerning our own legal arrangements and on issues concerning equal rights for same-sex couples generally. This occurred shortly before both of us were privileged to participate in the filming of a 5-part documentary on LGBT couples who have been together at least 10 years. We just observed the beginning of our 14th, but we were novices compared to a Ian and Ambrose, a couple who recently observed their coming to Indianapolis from England in 1956 after three or four years of being a committed couple before that. The brainchild of Indianapolis photographer Mark Lee, and titled “Ordinary Couples-Extraordinary Lives”, has its roots an exhibit of his photographs of same-sex couples several years ago.

It struck me that this project is important, because among other things it puts real faces and voices on what sometimes seem to be just printed words or sound bites of rhetoric over this amendment or that. Discovering that real next door neighbors, real office co-workers, and real people with kids in school with yours face day-to-day challenges with legal rights that you take for granted can be enlightening.

Democratic leadership needs to hear those stories, and then tell us what they will do to make sure our families don’t keep living those stories.

Candidates seeking to explain their position further should talk about real couples, real kids, and real emotions and values, such as treating people the way you’d want to be treated. They should move beyond abstractions and buzzwords to concrete examples [PDF] of the protections and responsibilities that come with marriage that are being wrongfully withheld from taxpaying citizens. They should describe how marriage protects families and children, protections that gay and lesbian Americans, in our common humanity, need too.

Democrats have a chance to lead in an area where the population is approaching a tipping point; one that we’ll inevitably reach with or without Democratic leadership, because we — those of us who are and have been out for years, who go to work, raise our families, care for our friends, and contribute to our communities without hiding who we are — will keep doing the necessary work, around the water cooler, at the after-church coffee-clatch, and around our kitchen tables. But we need Democratic leadership to join us there.

We need you to care enough about your neighbors and their right to work enough to listen to what these candidates have to say about job discrimination. We need you to care enough about parentless children who would be placed in loving homes, but for the misguided fears of politicians placating extremists. We need you to care enough about the plight of people with HIV and AIDS and what these candidates have to say about health care in America. We need you to care enough about our nation’s armed forces in a time of war to hear what these candidates say about our right to serve in the military and what they will specifically do to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (Lip service is good, but until one of the sitting US Senators running for president actually introduces a bill to repeal DADT I don’t really want to hear it from them.)



When she headed the Human Rights Campaign, Elizabeth Birch was fond of explaining that the struggle for LGBT rights is waged and won at kitchen tables across America every day. Today that playing field has been extended to interactive television and flat panel monitors. Spend a few minutes; give yourself the tools to help you respond to misinformation. In a time where legislative battles are fought and won in the media, we need the 90 percent of you out there to arm yourselves with the information we need to win.

2 Comments

  1. I for one will be watching re-runs of the Waltons — a far more enjoyable gaggle of liberals than the Democratic candidates.

  2. Pingback: A Stitch in Haste

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