On Asking Experts, Part One, Or, Do Democrats Really Understand Their LBGT Problem?

Stories begat other stories, or at least they do for me; this two-part conversation came from a comment that was made after I posted a story suggesting that voting matters this time, especially if you don’t want environmental disasters like the recent Hungarian “toxic lake” that burst from its containment and polluted the Danube River happening in your neighborhood.

Long story short, we are going to be moving on to ask what, for some, is a more fundamental question: if you’re an LBGT voter, and the Democratic Party hasn’t, to put it charitably, “been all they could be” when it comes to issues like repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” or the Federal Defense of Marriage Act...what should you do?

Now normally I would be the one trying to develop an answer to the question, but instead, we’re going to be posing the question to a group of experts, and we’ll be letting them give the answers.

And just because you, The Valued Reader, deserve the extra effort, for Part Two we’ve trying to get you a “Special Bonus Expert” to add some input to the conversation: a Democratic Member of Congress who represents a large LBGT community.

“We were liberated not only empty-handed but left in the power of a people who resented our emancipation as an act of unjust punishment to them. They were therefore armed with a motive for doing everything in their power to render our freedom a curse rather than a blessing.”

--From The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition, Ida B. Wells, 1893

So we have our question, now we need a panel of experts.

As it happens, one of the sites to which I post is The Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LBGTQ”), so I went to the site, posted the question (What Would You Tell A Frustrated Gay Voter?), and told the readers that I wanted to stand back and let them inform the conversation so that I could pass the message on to the larger Democratic and Progressive audience.

Most of what you’ll be reading in this two-parter will be those comments; I’ll be offering a few thoughts of my own, but my main effort will be to be “set the stage” for others.

So as we said, the big take-away here is that there is a portion of the LBGT community that feels like they have been “left behind”, if you will, by the very Democrats they helped to elect; Hannah offers an example of how that thinking manifested itself in the comments:

I don't think many politicians really are pro-gay. Democrats will vote for gay issues, but the issue in question can't stand alone. It needs to be attached to military spending or to credit card legislation, so that their constituents that don't pay attention to detail will miss their pro-gay votes. When it gets there, I don't think ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] will be a stand-alone bill. I can't even think about how DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] will end.

Bill Perdue puts it a lot more strongly:

The 'progressive' wing of the Democrat party is a wet noodle. It has no - zero, nada, zilch - clout or influence. It's barely tolerated as left cover and if it gets too pushy they call the cops...

The Democrats have a long and clear history of bigotry and of doing what they have to do to appease bigots and get their votes. Democrats voted for DADT [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and DOMA in large majorities and a Democrat bigot signed both bills.

Rank and filers and supporters are welcome to donate time and money and even attend conventions to watch their betters maneuver and scheme but they have no power.

Gina9223 picks up part of Bill’s theme and runs a bit further with it:

Between the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and HRC [Human Rights Campaign, a pro-civil rights organizing group] they both use GLBT and our struggles for gaining equal rights ONLY to generate money for their bottom line. How often have you heard or seen the some ad hack saying 'the fight has only begun and they need your dollars now!'??? A few weeks or months go by with the assurance that they're "doing everything possible" to secure the passing of ENDA, but they had to let that fall to give support to repeal of DOMA but they had to let that go to run after repeal of DADT. But don't worry, they'll come around in the bus next time to pick up our money. Just not us.

Now comes to the table Alex Blaze (who often gets stuck with the yeoman’s work of editing the things I post to Bilerico) with a bit of realpolitik:

It's a catch-22: If Dems do fine in November they'll learn that ignoring LGBT people was great and they should keep on doing it. If they lose big, then they'll think that they went too far to the left and they should do even less.

One would become suspicious about the fact that there's no situation where they become more responsive to public opinion and more queer-friendly, but we obviously can't question the Democrats' commitment to LGBT rights. That just wouldn't be polite.

Andrew W expands on Gina’s point that it’s not entirely a Democratic problem:

The frustration is warranted, but instead of simply singling out Democrats for not accomplishing something they never had the votes to accomplish, what about Gay Inc. and activist groups? A significant amount of money was spent in the last 2 years and we have nothing to show for it. GetEQUAL resurrected 1960s styled civil disobedience and protest - without any measurable results and mounting evidence that we've simply alienated our only "friends." HRC spent millions lobbying Congress and yet they cannot show us a single vote they "changed."

SoFloMo is of the opinion that a big part of the problem is staring at voters in the bathroom mirror each morning:

Too often we get indignant and then throw parties where politicians and/or Gay Inc. come to collect checks after everyone has found their way to the bottom of three or four cocktails.

I've been to events in South Florida where the house is packed to meet a gay-friendly celebrity or the head of a national LGBT organization. But few people will turn up to canvass on behalf of local candidates who have passed laws protecting LGBT rights. Few people will work the phones to defeat candidates supported by the Christian Coalition.

So I need to keep a handle on how long stories run, and “we’ve stated the problem, so let’s come back tomorrow and address some answers” seems like a reasonable plan for splitting the story in two...so that’s what we’re going to do.

Let’s bring this Part One to a close by restating the premise: there exists some number of LBGT voters who feel they have nothing to gain by voting this time, because they perceive no available political path to achieving forward progress on civil rights issues. There’s another group who feel Democrats are not a trustworthy partner in the effort to advance civil rights, and if they show up to vote at all this time, it probably won’t be for Democratic candidates.

Just as soon as I get this posted, I’ll be assembling Part Two; with the “question now asked”, we’ll be getting to answers—and I think you’re going to be surprised at the diversity of responses.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been in touch with a currently unnamed Member of Congress who has a significant LBGT constituency over the past 24 hours, and the Press Secretary over there has indicated that they’ll try to have a response for attribution in time for Part Two.

Between now and then, try on a thought exercise and see where it takes you: put yourself in the shoes of an LBGT voter, think about this election it it’s full context, and consider what advice would make sense to you—and then, after you’ve done that, consider how you’d pass along what you’re thinking to either the Democrats or the voters we’re talking about.


so take a stab at the thought experiment...

...and tell us how it went.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

I don't think it's really a secret what I think

Federal Democrats: Punish them by voting for their opposition.

They have taken majority positions (super polling on DADT repeal) and failed to deliver. We can go on about other smaller issues (not even ENDA and DOMA) that were promised and not delivered -- namely stripping LGBT issues from the health care "reform" bill, no passage of the federal govt benefits bill (Rep. Baldwin and Sen. Lieberman), etc.

The caveat here in NC is that the Democratic US Senate candidate is Elaine Marshall who has not been a part of the Washington DC clusterf@ck. She deserves a shot since Richard Burr has been part of the problem (filibustering DADT repeal, etc)

NC state level Democrats: Support them. They've delivered for LGBT voters in the past 2 years (School Violence Prevention Act, No Marriage Amendment, Strong support for ADAP funding).

It's quite simple in politics. You support those that deliver for you.

The federal Democrats (and not just Obama) have overpromised and underdelivered -- with no political reason to do so (like say...heavily polling in opposition)

Since 1994, federal Democrats have always had the excuse that they haven't had control of the legislative and executive branch. The historic Democratic majorities swept away that excuse and laid the national Democratic leadership's fear and bigotry bare.

I'm no longer taking excuses for failure.


much of what you're talking about...

...is going to be a big part of part two--particularly the issue of separating "supportive" candidates from those who are less supportive.

since there are a number of commenters in that story that address these same issues, i'll hang back for now and let them talk about it.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

"put yourself in the shoes of an LBGT voter"

Easy enough since I'm already there anyways. I take each candidate on a case by case basis.

Elaine Marshall for Senate has stood up on more LGBT issues on her website than any senate candidate I've ever seen from North Carolina. And that's saying something after working my butt off for an openly gay senate candidate last election cycle.

David Price for Congress is an easy call for me, at least on LGBT issues. Rep. Price cosponsored ENDA & voted in favor of DADT repeal, & cosponsored the Matthew Shepard Act, & cosponsored UAFA, & cosponsored DOMA repeal, & supported measures to fight HIV & equalize federal benefits, and he got the highest rating from the Human Rights Campaign of Representative from NC. That is more action on LGBT legislation than any other legislator from NC. And its cosponsoring in most cases, not just voting. If the entire legislature were David Price's, I might not be a second class citizen.

Ellie Kinnaird for NC State Senate, who is no stranger to Pride rallies, has helped lead the charge on the victories that we've had on the state level, as has Representative Insko. If all the federal and state elected officials were reflective of the kinds of federal and state elected officials I'll be voting for, I might not be a second class citizen. And when I look at the alternative, unanimous GOP opposition to the anti-bullying bill, or unanimous opposition to DADT repeal, I can't imagine ever voting for a GOP as a vote to punish the Dems (although 3rd party like a green write in vote isn't out of the question if I didn't have such awesome representatives, unless there was a really moderate GOP who was good on LGBT & other issues, but there is no such animal in the current climate). And Equality NC gives some guidance for elections in this state with their endorsements: http://equalitync.org/pac/2010g

I think if I lived in a different district in NC that I could easily be cynical or burned out about the election process. I've certainly approached it at times. Having Elaine at the top of the ticket as the flagship campaign makes it a lot easier to feel good about the process. I think Elaine Marshall has set a better standard for senate campaigns. I expect Senator Hagan's re-election campaign website when that election comes around to do as well Elaine Marshall's campaign site, if she hopes for funding or volunteering from the LGBT community.

As I said, I take candidate on a case by case basis rather than national moods to throw the bums out or what have you. But President Obama hasn't made a strong case for his re-election yet. I'm not surprised at all that the DOJ is appealing the DADT ruling (since I read the article below back around March maybe). But I will hold him accountable for it come 2012 if that law is still in place if his DOJ is appealing it, and he's not using executive action to put at least a temporary end to it, and he hasn't pressure the legislature to do it. He had an easy out with that case, but he's made it hard on himself to earn my re-election vote.


Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that the Obama administration is committed to overturning the law, but the Justice Department regularly defends statutes that are currently law, regardless of the president's support for the laws. Said Schmaler in a statement: “In this case the Department is defending the statute, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged. The Department does not pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one Administration’s policy preferences.

The current administration has made some efforts, here is their list (a lot of which is rightfully called breadcrumbs):

Here is one commenter's narrowing it down to what they saw as real achievements:

From Jason84 [] - May. 18, 2010 11:59 PM

As far as Im concerned Obama has really only 7 accomplishments worth mentioning, here they are:

1, Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees

2, Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

3, Instructed HHS to require any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds (virtually all hospitals) to allow LGBT visitation rights.

4, Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the Federal government (the nation's largest employer)

5, Signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act

6, Issued diplomatic passports, and provided other benefits, to the partners of same-sex foreign service employees

7, Lifted the HIV Entry Ban effective January 2010

That is enough for me not to completely write off voting for re-electing the President come 2012, but DADT will have to be gone, and the President is actively letting opportunities slip away. This helps too:

On a final note I applaud the efforts of Get Equal and anyone else taking action. I believe that change require a comprehensive of writing, mailing, e-mailing your legislators, signing petitions, attending rallies, organizing protests, working against your opponents, supporting allies (while also calling them out if they slip or become complacent), lobbying your representatives, voting, targeted donations if you can afford it, and I believe that Get Equal represents one vital part of the comprehensive approach that was probably underrepresented before them.

I point out though that LGBT voters, like most voters, are defined by more than one issue. For issues like election/campaign finance reform/transparency (a silver bullet in fixing a lot of things IMO), and animal welfare issues (how you treat a living being that can't speak for itself, speaks a lot about someone) which overlaps with environmental concerns too, and education/college is important to me as a grad student (& son of a teacher, husband of professor-in-training), and some other issues.

for the most part...

...i'd rather let the bilerico commenters address these types of issues, for the purposes of this story, and that's what part two will be about...but one big take-away for me this year was the frustration that people i respect have with getequal and the hrc, even to the point of now looking at them as "gay, inc.".

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

One more note on Marshall

and LGBT issues.

I wanted to share this bit from tonight's debate:

Moderator: We've talked about the military. Right now there's a battle underway in the courts of this country, the federal courts, and in Washington, over what to do about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy against gays in the military. I'd like you to comment on that but I also have a very straightforward question, and that is: do you believe that being gay is--or lesbian--is it a matter of genetics, of biology or is it a matter of choice?

Marshall: Well Judy, it's a... your last question is the most important. I don't believe it is a matter of choice. I believe that it is a biological occurrence, specifically beyond that I don't have the scientific knowledge to say, but I don't really believe its choice. I do think that if there are people that want to stand up for me and stand up for every American and defend us around the world they should be able to do that. I believe the government policy on Don't Ask Don't Tell needs to be repealed. As to the judge and the courts - this is a law that Congress made, it is something that Congress needs to fix. The president has recommended it, the highest of brass has recommended it, and it is time that that takes place. It should have taken place but it hasn't taken place, and now we've gotten judges from the Ninth Circuit who, a judge, who has jumped in on this, probably because Congress didn't act, but it really needs to be decided by Congress and not the judiciary.

Moderator: And Mr. Burr, respond on the Don't Ask Don't Tell, and also the question on whether being gay and lesbian is a matter of genetics, biology or a matter of choice.

Burr: Well, Judy, let me just say I'm not sure that any of us know whether its genetic or by choice, and I'm not sure that's even relevant. If somebody chooses that lifestyle and how it might then impact our policies. Don't Ask Don't Tell has worked. Now personally I don't see a reason to reverse it. But that's a personal opinion. I think the country should have a debate. And what we should do is we should wait until the Department of Defense has gotten back the survey of those individuals who serve. That survey's back in December. This is not too far off. I agree with Secretary Marshall. This is not an issue for the courts to decide. This is a law of the country and only Congress can in fact address it. But I'm confident of this - that this is the wrong time to change this policy. We've got hundreds of thousands of troops deployed. We don't yet know what we might have to do, from a standpoint of changing the accommodations for troops if the policy changed. Now I'm not scared to have the debate, I welcome the debate, but I'm also very confident that we should time this in a way that makes as little impact on those troops that are deployed as we possibly can.

Moderator: And so the research that has shown, that indicates that gay/lesbian is a matter of biology, you would say...

Burr: I would only say that I'm not sure there has been conclusive evidence of what the result is.

Moderator: A rebuttal.

Marshall: I would respond to that by saying there is ample evidence that it is biological and Senator Burr obviously believes its by choice. That is wrong headed and discriminatory. We shouldn't be judging people by the color of their hair, the color of their eyes, the color of their skin, or other factors that they have no control over. That's wrong in America, and what you're talking about is governmental discrimination for something that's outside of somebody's control

Burr: Secretary Marahall, I'm not sure that I referred to anybody's skin color, or to their hair color. This is a very specific group of individuals, and I made it very clear what my position was. But don't bring race into this.

Marshall: It is because of who they are by factors that they have no control over. Gender is another one of those. This country has been replete with discrimination based upon things that folks have no control over, and its time in 2010, this century, that we end that.

Copied from here (which I assumed is a transcript from WRAL):

The link suggests that this is political suicide for Burr, I doubt that. I wish being pro-discrimination and hate was enough to be political suicide. But I'm glad to see the guts to swing strong on this and so many other issues. Elaine was on fire tonight. Thank you Elaine. Win or lose, you've helped move the debate towards equality. And after that last PPP, I think we're definitely on the way to winning. Go Elaine Go!

i would ask anyone here who isn't gay...

...on just exactly which day did you choose to be straight?

by the way...have a look at this:

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Pretty sure it was kindergarten

I distinctly remember giving a girl my Graham cracker and trying to entice her to move her nap blanket next to mine. But I think I took a bite out of it before I gave it to her. So I guess my heterosexuality and "commitment issues" emerged at the same time...

but was it a choice?

in other words, did you, that long-ago day, choose heterosexuality from among a range of options...or was it a bit of a "default" choice...almost as if it were somehow hardwired into your personal makeup?

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

I don't recall ever

having a choice, or weighing any options, or holding even the mildest of attractions for other males. Hell, to this day, I find it difficult not responding to the attraction I feel for nearly every woman that wanders into my range of sight (or any other sense).

If a woman catches me not flirting, she'll probably also smell smoke from the effort to restrain the flirt impulse. The reason I mention this is because I want women reading this to know: If I do flirt with you, please don't be offended. I'm just trying to avoid bursting into flames, okay? It's a safety thing.

Fear not

Unless you *fail* to flirt with me, in which case I'd be hurt.

You got yourself a deal, kiddo ;)

And thanks for the advisory. The only thing stronger than my flirt impulse is my inability to recognize when I'm being flirted with. The realization usually hits me like two hours later: "I wonder why she told me what time she gets off work and how boring prime-time television...ooooh. Oh. Shit."


that's the exact same question...

...i wish more people were asking of some of the "family values" candidates, and i'd love to hear them explain how they can see gay as a choice and straight as...well...you know...normal.

by the way: good call on the disclosure.
safety first.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965


Sexual attraction is not something you "choose", it just happens. And life is way too short to sacrifice your happiness because your desires don't conform to someone else's formula.

need a good laugh?

we are here talking about things gay, and i just happen to have "the graham norton show" on the tv...the guest is barry manilow...and i'm fairly sure that even if you went to the logo channel right now you couldn't find a "gayer" presentation on television.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

The Guts to swing strong

I'm glad to see the guts to swing strong on this and so many other issues. Elaine was on fire tonight. Thank you Elaine. Win or lose, you've helped move the debate towards equality. And after that last PPP, I think we're definitely on the way to winning. Go Elaine, Go!

I could not agree more. Go Elaine Go!

Martha Brock

i'm a cynic by nature...

...and after this election, i don't think there's going to be a lot of appetite for a federal legislative solution on doma.

dadt, maybe--but if it doesn't happen before june of '11 it will probably be subsumed into the '12 presidential campaign, and then it will not move at all.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

I 'm selectively cynical

It is impossible to be cynical about everyone and every issue -- don't you think? That's just overwhelming.

So I choose not to be cynical about Elaine Marshall for Senate, David Price for Congress, and Charles Malone for NC Senate this election.

Go Elaine! Go David! Go Charles! ...Go VOTE!

Martha Brock

cynicism makes a good lens...

...through which to "calibrate" the claims and promises that go with politics--and a bit of wisely applied cynicism can actually yield very good results in terms of making political predictions.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965