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:
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.