The Republic of T.

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

As the Gay Vote Goes…

So goes the country? Well, probably not. But who knows how gay voters feel anyway? Not the media, which can’t make up its mind if we’re unexpectedly satisfied:

For the first time in two decades, gay voters find themselves in an unusual, if happy, predicament. The three leading Democrats have staked out similar positions on issues that resonate with gay men and lesbians. Although none of the three candidates back gay marriage, they all support same-sex civil unions and say they would fight to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And each of them says he or she would champion a federal anti-discrimination law that would protect lesbians and gay men.

“You would need a magnifying glass to see any real or substantive differences between the three candidates,” said Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights group in New York.

Or ultimately frustrated.

Even as they expect to support whichever Democrat gets the presidential nomination, many activists are disappointed that the three leading contenders rarely mention gay-rights topics unless responding to a question.

“They don’t want to broach civil unions, marriage, equalizing benefits for same-sex couples,” said Jennifer Chrisler, head of the Family Equality Council, which supports gay and lesbian families. “The vast majority of politicians don’t lead, they follow.”

There are other frustrations as well. Activists were dismayed that the Democratic-led Congress failed to approve two much-anticipated bills late last year — one defining anti-gay assaults as a federal hate crime, the other prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination.

Of course, both articles touch on the reality that not only are the”leading” candidates positions on gay issues nearly identical—except for the DOMA Difference, and a few other details—but they’re identically mediocre.
African American women are now thought to have an important role in choosing the Democratic nominee and the direction of the party. And according to some, gay voters have an opportunity to wield similar influence.

Mega Tuesday is nearly upon us. There will never be another moment in this entire election campaign where gay voters can be more influential on the outcome. So what will you decide? What statement will you make? Time is short. Just don’t kid yourself that this moment doesn’t mean much. It means everything — whether the gay community will have a real chance for progress in the next four years, or be consumed whole by a political machine that puts itself above all else, including our lives.

Great. Except that for the most part we’ve already decided not to take that opportunity. We’ve already given candidates a pass on taking politically safe, nice-sounding positions that don’t yield any real change or require any leadership on their parts.

Prior to the New Hampshire primary, the Boston-based gay newspaper Bay Windows — which circulates across New England — was approached by representatives of several Democratic candidates seeking an endorsement, editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar said.

Instead, Ryan-Vollmar wrote a biting column asserting that none of the front-runners — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards — had shown enough courage on gay issues to deserve the customarily generous financial support of gay donors.

“They’ve merely settled on what the Democrats have staked out as a safe, consensus position, just far enough ahead of where the party was in 2004 to give a sense of progress but not so far as to threaten Middle America,” Ryan-Vollmar wrote. “That’s not leadership, it’s poll-tested and party-approved pandering, pure and simple.”

Rather than donating to any presidential candidate, gays and lesbians should give money to state and local candidates who support marriage rights, she wrote.

Instead we’ve left without support candidates who do support marriage equality, and funneled support to candidate who don’t even fully support removing obstacles to marriage equality.

With about a week left before the primary, the gay vote appears to be mirroring the statewide electorate, which is leaning toward Senator Clinton but has yet to coalesce around one candidate. As one of the state’s most powerful politicians, Mrs. Clinton enjoys widespread institutional support in the gay community; most of the city’s gay Democratic groups have endorsed her, as have the state’s highest-ranking openly gay officials, including the speaker of the New York City Council, Christine C. Quinn, and State Senator Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan. Last week, The New York Blade, a local gay newspaper, endorsed Mrs. Clinton as well.

We’ve already been consumed by a political machine that not only puts itself, everyone, and everything else before our lives and concerns, but asks us to do the same.

As such, though, it becomes invisible or gets a new name that places it outside the ghetto of “identity politics.” One example is when a particular group—gays, women, African Americans or other ethnic groups, etc.—in, say, a political coalition are asked to set aside their “single issue” concerns in order to support an agenda that serves “the greater good.” Those specific “single issue” concerns fall outside of “the greater good,” in part because they are not concerns specific to the dominant group, and don’t concern issues that impact the dominant group or that the dominant group perceives as having an impact on their lives. Thus, for them, those concerns are much lower priorities, that can be addressed “later,” as some undefined point in the future, after the agenda for the “greater good” is fully achieved.

(It’s exactly what happened in the recent debate over a trans-inclusive ENDA.)

The difference is that when the dominant group essentially asks minority groups to re-prioritize their concerns, they are essentially asking them to re-prioritize their identities by adopting and prioritizing the concerns of the dominant group over the specific concerns related to their “other” identity (or their identity as “other,” depending on how you look at it.) The dominant group basically says, “identify more with us, for your own good,” yet it’s not called identity politics.

And we’re happy to oblige.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted that the campaign rhetoric is dominated by overarching issues — the economy, Iraq, health care — that virtually all voters, including gays, agree are paramount.

So, as the gay vote goes, so goes America? Not so much. More like, as America goes, so goes the gay vote. Along for the ride.

The question is: will be be surprised when we don’t end up having moved forward, but instead find ourselves in pretty much the same place?

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