Sunday, August 12, 2007

Nobody Wins if Everybody Loses

After having dinner at Neighbor Girl’s (a.k.a. VUBOQ’s Superfantasic Cuz (I thought it makes more sense for her to be defined by her relationship to me for this blog)) house the other evening, I came home to watch Logo’s Forum for the Democratic Presidential Candidates. Up until this point, I have largely avoided coverage of the candidates because I think that it is too damn early to be spending this amount of time and attention on them. The news, instead, could be covering the misdeeds and illegal activities of our current administration. My feeling was that we should only start listening to other people who want to be in the White House when the current occupant is in jail.

Given that the Logo forum was a historic moment when presidential candidates would address a nation-wide GLBT audience, I decided it was necessary to tune into it. At the very least, I figured that I might be asked questions about it when I start teaching the history of sexuality again in the fall.

My fellow Americans, our nation’s leaders are a feeble crew. None of the candidates surprised me with their answers. Well, at least none of them surprised me in a positive way. We will deal with the train wreck that was Bill Richardson in a moment.

My dismay came in the following days when the media and others authoritatively declared a “winner” for the evening (alternately between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton). What did they say that actually supported the queer community? How did a position of “I won’t actively harass you and I sometimes think that you are almost human” become a “win” for the queer community? To my mind, nobody won that forum – and queers really lost.

Here, in a nut shell, was the message that each candidate delivered to the queer community and my assessment:

    Barack Obama: I am not afraid to talk about gay people even when I am not at a gay-specific event! I also understand the pain of the gay community because I am black, which is like being gay, but really totally different. That's why I don't really support equal rights for you queers.

Even when discussing homophobia within the black community, Obama still seemed to imagine queers as mostly outsiders. Further, Obama treated queer folk as if they had just now started fighting for civil rights rather than acknowledging the half century (and more!) of fights that have transpired. At one point, it seemed like he wanted to give lessons to the queer community about how to pursue social justice. We should not be made to feel like we should apologize for comparisons to other civil rights movements. Queer folk have been involved in all the major civil rights movements of the past century. We are not the politically naïve ones, Barack.

    John Edwards: Don’t worry, I am really comfortable around gay people, especially when they are writing checks for my campaign. Also, let me say that I made a mistake when I said that I opposed same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Religion has no role in government. Now I am opposed to same-sex marriage for no apparent reason at all.

All I wondered is why Elizabeth Edwards isn’t running for president instead of him.

    Dennis J. Kucinich: I bring you peace and love.

I always want to support Kucinich based on the issues, but why must he always make himself look crazy? This time he seemed to be a doing a parody of Mr. Burns after his life extension treatments:

    Mike Gravel: I can’t believe queer people are dumb enough to support Clinton or Obama. Actual quote: “They’re playing it safe. They’re not going to lose any votes about not supporting gay marriage. It’s costing us votes because I do support it. I don’t care. I don’t want those votes.”

Gravel delivered perhaps the most honest appraisal of the entire evening. After discussing the fact that he was not originally going to be a guest despite his vocal support for queer issues, he wondered aloud about why the queer community was busy falling over themselves for people like Clinton and Obama when they offer only meek support for queer rights. It is likely, however, that nobody will really remember him anyway (or they will confuse him with that other Alaska guy who said the internet was a bunch of tubes).

    Bill Richardson: I have done things for gay people in New Mexico and will do what I think is possible for them in the White House (which isn’t much). I understand the pain of the gay community because I am Latino, which is like being gay, but totally different. Sexuality is a choice. . . Or maybe it’s not. How should I know? I am no “scientist.”

It has been a long time since I have actually cringed because of a political figure talking on t.v. It hurt all the more to come from Bill – In truth, he has been a pretty good governor of my beloved New Mexico. He also really does have the most experience of all the candidates out there. So, why did he look so inept? It might have been nice if he at least put up the pretense of having thought about GLBT issues before stepping on the stage.

Until that debacle, Richardson had been my choice. He was Latino. He was Congressional Representative and Governor of New Mexico. He seemed good on the gays. That was a horrible disillusionment. Now I am back to my GayProf in ‘08 platform.

    Hillary Clinton: I will say almost anything at this moment to get your vote and money, except actually pledge to fight for real equality. Hey – the best that I can do is try to prevent you people from being shoved into a concentration camp. You whiny little bitches should be glad that I don’t support that. Now, if you will excuse me, Joe Solomonese and I are going to get back into bed together. He is my poodle, don’t you know?

Clinton was just sleazy.

I firmly believe in voting based on reality. When the presidential election rolls around in 2008 and we are facing a horrid right-wing candidate (and all the players on the field are horrid), it is a strong bet that I will support the Democratic candidate. Right now, though, messing with a left third party for the presidency is short sighted and gives the advantage to individuals like George W. Bush.

At this stage, however, it is not time for queer people to make those concessions. I understand why Clinton and Obama are taking the positions that they are taking. For them, it is about calculating their best chance to win. They figure the gays will support them anyway, so why bother having a principled position on equality?

That simply isn’t good enough. To my mind, the queer community is still so bowled over that anybody famous bothers to mention our names that we consider that more important than fighting for our actual rights. Queer people are bombarded by messages that we have no value and are causing more problems for the nation than we are worth. It’s no wonder then that some people will latch onto the first person who says, “Hey, I don’t totally hate you (even if I vomit a little when I think about what you do in the bedroom).”

What became clear from the forum is that the Democratic candidates want queer votes and really, really want queer money, but are not interested in pursuing a campaign that actually acknowledges our rights as citizens. We don’t have to be grateful for the measly crumbs offered to us by people like Clinton and Obama. Nor do we have to tolerate their lack of knowledge about history (not “our” history as queer people, but the actual history of the United States). Just because the notion of queer rights is new to them doesn’t mean it’s new to the world.

First of all, queer people were critically important to both the African American and Latino civil rights movements. It’s only historical amnesia that has prevented people from discussing this more often.

Likewise, the fight for queer rights has not just benefited queer people. It goes without saying, for instance, that queer activists have been critical to the AIDS crisis. Heterosexuals who are affected by this disease owe a lot to gay men for demanding research and money to fight it.

Even less discussed, though, are the real ways that queer activism has changed ideas about sexuality and gender in this nation. Queer activists have started with the assumption that sexuality is a vitally important part of all humans' daily lives. They fought against the notion of singular “normal” sex life in favor of the freedom for all adults to pursue their own unique desires.

I do not, therefore, accept any presidential candidate who claims that my basic rights must be traded because the majority of Americans aren’t ready to grant them to me. I don’t give a fuck about offending “majoritarian sensibilities.” The majority has always resisted recognizing the rights of minorities in this nation.

Electing somebody who is willing to trade our rights because the majority of Americans don’t think we deserve any maintains the homophobia (and racism and sexism) that defines modern U.S. society. If we don’t respect our own rights enough to call Clinton, Obama, and the whole crew homophobic and hollow, then we have lost regardless of who enters the White House in 2009.

Having Democratic Candidates appear on gay television to talk at us for an hour is not a win. Having Democratic Candidates listen to us for an hour would have been.


Jason said...

Nice. I don't have to watch these things on the internet tubes. You report fit with my gut feeling though. I'm still baffled by queer suppport of obama and clinton, well, not really baffled. Just saddened.

Texas SUCKED so much. It was extremely decadent. My brother let my nieces play in the yard with 100 degree weather with the house running without stop, oblivous to the waste in water...

Ugh. How's MFT? Come back to Boston for a visit soon.

Josh said...

Although I was just as pissed off by Edwards' bizarre tease of a non-answer on marriage, I couldn't help but be impressed by his choice to bring up gay youth homelessness completely on his own. Here's a truly important issue with pretty much no donor or voter base. Yes, it goes well with his campaign's focus on poverty, but I can't see how that's a bad thing.

Of course, I did start watching with a touch of bias.

tornwordo said...

The candidates know the sad truth. The queer vote will go to the party who is least disturbed by our existence. It doesn't matter really who is on the ballot in 15 months. (15 months to go! It really is too soon to even give these people the time of day.)

vuboq said...

I liked Kucinich when he ran last time, too. It's unfortunate he seems so ... er ... unpresidential. He'll probably get my primary vote (if he's still in the election by the time MD has its primary).

David said...

Wow. Awesome post.

Dorian said...

I notice we feel the same way about Elizabeth Edwards. Man, if even one of the Democratic candidates were as forthright as her, I'd be able to muster up some enthusiasm for this campaign. But most of the Democratic candidates are empty suits, while the Republican candidates are just scary. As it is, I'm picturing a Clinton/Giuliani face-off next year, which means the nation is screwed either way.

Rebekah said...

I only caught a snippet of the candidates, because my landlady doesn't pay for the extra cable to include Logo (I'm highly distraught over this, because they rerun not only my favorite soap; Queer as Folk, but also Bad Girls, a horrible reality show that sucked me in last year.)

It's not just the queer vote here either. There's the hetero vanilla folk out here like me, who want equal rights for everyone. The candidates aren't only losing the "gay" vote, but the human vote.

Chad said...

I don't get Logo, but after enduring the parade of unfettered idiocy that was the CNN-YouTube "debate", I probably wouldn't have watched it anyway.

Your analysis was fantastic. Like you, I actually might end up voting Democratic. I hate to abandon my principle of voting my conscience, but none of the expected third-party candidates look like they're worth my vote either.

Marius said...

Excellent post. I agree with most of your points, and I think Tornwordo’s statement is so true: "the queer vote will go to the party who is least disturbed by our existence."

I've always liked Kucinich, but it's hard to take him seriously. He does come across as a crazy person. However, of all the candidates, I think he's probably the best in terms of gay issues.

I've always kind of ignored Richardson because, well, I just don't think he stands a chance. He's also in a tough position. If I had to guess, I'd say most Latinos and African Americans are against gay marriage. Latinos are quite conservative, as you know. I was shocked that over 40% of the Latino vote went to Bush in 2004. Honestly, Richardson is doing what he has to do to stay in the game--he's courting the Latino vote hardcore. I really think he has very little choice.

Clio Bluestocking said...

When I first read about this debate, I was embarassed that these candidates had the gall to stand up in front of a group of gay people and flat out say that they do not think gay people should have equal protection under the law. I was apalled that they would be so openly homophobic to a gay audience. They might as well have said, "Gays? Ewwwwww, gross!" They need to quit acting like sqeamish, 12-year-old, straight boys and just say, "queer rights are human rights." If this were, in fact, the African American Civil Rights movement, if this were, say 1955, then these Democrats would be on the side of the segregationists.

GayProf for President in '08!

Huntington said...

OK, so, "that simply is not good enough." What can actually be done this presidential election cycle to put that idea into action? If you say you're to vote for the Democratic nominee anyway, what exactly are you advocating? Without proposing a realistic course of action, it just seems like you're venting.

Venting is good, and of course I agree with you on where we need to go. I'd argue that we're on our way there, and that the most important next step in getting there is to elect a president who's going to make things worse. Sadly, that's where we are as 2008 looms. Incremental progress is always frustrating, but it's better than incremental (or catastrophic) backsliding.

(By the welcome were queers as queers during the civil rights movements of the '50s & '60s?)

Huntington said...

"...the most important next step in getting there is to elect a president who's going NOT going to make things worse" is of course what I meant.

GayProf said...

Jason: MFT is Midwestern and funky. It is unusual in its niceness. I miss Boston a great deal, though. Texas is not a place that I miss at all.

Josh: Yes, you bring up a good point about queer youth. One of the things that bothered me about the panel is that they were obsessed with the marriage issue and largely ignored almost everything else (except an occasional mention of HIV/AIDS).

Torn: Alas, it is true that we are stuck in a tough place as queer voters. On the other hand, we can say that we are stuck rather than falling over ourselves to support people like Clinton or Obama.

VUBOQ: I voted for Carol Mosley Braun last time around.

David: Thanks!

Dorian: It is a sad state of affairs when the spouse of a candidate outshines the actual politician.

Rebekah: This is something that I think that the candidates miss. They imagine queer issues as only being important to queer people (who, let's face it, are a small percentage of the population). In truth, though, many of our friends, family, and other loved ones also value us enough to support real human rights.

Chad: Sometimes politics is about the least objectionable person.

Marius: The discussion about the Latino vote "going for" GWB is a bit misleading. First, that includes the Cuban-American population which has largely voted Republican for over two decades. That was not much of change in 2004. Second, the small (and it was very small) percentage of Mexican Americans who supported Bush were mostly in the middle to upper class.

Of course, none of the panel bothered to ask Richardson or any of the other candidates about queer Latinos (nor were they well represented in the audience). That, though, is another issue entirely.

Clio: It was a bit mysterious that they would agree to appear only to tell us that we are being unrealistic and asking for too much (as in, you know, rights and stuff).

Huntington: Fair enough - That is a valid critique. We might be a bit trapped when November 2008 comes around.

What I would say for now, though, is that we don't need to accept that it is a forgone conclusion that a candidate who supports real gay rights is not going to be viable against a Republican. Politics, so I am told, is the art of the possible.

Also, I would say that queer people should not open their checkbooks or give a single dime to any candidate who doesn't really support us. Hey -- If Obama and Clinton want to adopt a political strategy that leaves us on the sidelines, that's their prerogative. We don't need to finance that, though. We also really, really don't need to say that they are the "winners" of the gay debate.

Antonio said...

Very passionate and well-thought out post. Unfortunately, a candidate who offers us full marriage rights just isn't electable. My optimistic side believes that the candidates would be for gay marriage if the country was. My cynical (read: dominant) side believes they'll do and say whatever takes to get elected.

I definitely get the feeling we're going to be sick of talking about HRC, Obama, and Edwards by this time next year, when the conventions will be going on.

Mike said...

The next election is going to be really scary. Hopefully, California will not vote in proportional representation. Then that lock on 47 electoral votes will be broken 1/2, and a mad scramble will be made to get states like Florida and Colorado, which will definitely be uphill battles.

In many ways, the mainline candidates for the Democratic nomination are Sistah-Souljahring (is that a word?) the gay community. Notice that this "debate" is happening so far in front of the primary season that everything will be ancient history once the real campaign begins.

Frankly, I'd rather the winner be a champion of changes in national health care more than anything.

Huntington said...

What mike said, except I'm even more concerned about climate change than health care (not that reforming the latter isn't desperately important). I see a major species die-off within the next fifty years (including us) if we don't do something drastic now, and by "we," I mean the U.S.

I guess I don't feel so "left on the sidelines," since gay rights, while very, very important to me, isn't my biggest issue. And on my biggies, most of the Dems are right there with me. (Major caveat: I worry that Hillary is too economically conservative, just like her husband was.)

GayProf, I think a Dem with a more enlightened public perspective on this issue (and remember...none of these candidates is actually against marriage equality, no matter what they say) can be competitive in some state and local races now, and by 2012... who knows?

Also, the president has very little of substance to do on this issue other than provide a bully pulpit. It will take Congress to repeal DADT and DOMA, and the states and the federal courts will decide marriage once DOMA is defanged.

GayProf said...

Antonio: But I am already sick of HRC, Obama, Edwards, and Clinton...

Mike and Huntington3: I am not sure how expecting candidates to endorse civil rights somehow suggests that I am not interested in other issues as well. This is not a matter of limited gains. We can expect a candidate to be pro-gay and pro-environment and pro-health care.

It makes little sense to me, no matter what, to ever suggest that my basic rights are somehow less important than other issues (or that I will trade them). The fight for healthcare or the environment will be moot if we find ourselves without basic protections in our own day to day lives.

The President of the United States signs bills into law. Bill Clinton, for example, signed DOMA into existence.

Speaking of which, I don't see any of the leading Democratic candidates endorsing national healthcare nor have they really developed a concrete plan for the environment (which MUST take into account the urban environment (something that environmentalists tend to forget themselves)). Plus, if they are willing to negotiate away queer rights, what makes you think that they wouldn't do the same thing with these other issues?

Doug said...

Awesome analysis.

My vote will be for whomever can prevent another right-wing wackjob from getting into office. The lesser of two very-evils.

Roger Green said...

I didn't watch it (traveling), but your analysis is consistent with my earlier perceptions: that Kucinich and Gravel are the best, but has no chance; that Richardson should be THE guy, but isn't (bizarre on Meet the Press a couple months ago),; and that the big three will hedge their bets to attract the centralists. I voted for Kucinich in '04; I could make the case for voting for him on Feb 5 '08, but I feel I should pick the least of three evils, and today, that's Edwards.

goblinbox said...

You're Vuboq's cuzin's neighbor?!??!

How fucking small is the world, exactly?!?

Steven said...

It seemed like the whole debate was a debacle which showed how unimportant we must be and how little they really cared for the GLBT community. But I loved your critique of the candidates. Thanks for sharing. I don't think we'll ever come across another President like those we have had. Can I apply for your campaign manager position for "GayProf in '08?"

Mark in DE said...

Couldn't agree with you more! I can't figure out why people who are usually smart are suddenly acting like Clinton and Obama have given queers the secret wink.

Separate is not equal. "Marriage" laws and rights have already been defined. "Civil unions" will create the need for a committe of half-interested people to spend years and years and millions and millions trying to define "civil unions" and the ascribe to them the minimum rights they can. What a waste of time and money. And if the rights are incomplete, what recourse is there?

Separate is not equal, and Clinton and Obama do not deserve queer votes.