Monday, February 12, 2007

GLBT Americans Are Declaring Our Independence

After a disappointing decade in the political scene for gay people, many gay Americans decided to change their strategies.

After Bill Clinton signed DOMA and banned gay people from serving openly in the military, we realized that we weren't going to get our rights through the Democratic president -- who viewed gay Americans as an ATM machine that could be attacked in "pro family" campaign ads later. . . ads paid for with gay campaign contributions.

Still, gay Americans maintained some hope in the Democratic Party. After all, we reasoned, Bill Clinton was just one man -- and the larger party was with us, right?

Maybe not.

We gritted our teeth and suffered through a 2000 presidential campaign where Al Gore was so unfamiliar with gay issues that he proclaimed support for "civic unions" (not civil unions), and who announced that he supported DOMA and federal recognition of same-sex relationships (despite the fact that the two positions are mutually exclusive).

Then, we suffered through years of Republican gay-baiting, culminating with the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment. Democrats, perhaps predictably, put up a tepid response -- and many of them voted for it, without any penalties from the "pro gay" party leadership.

Then, came 2004 and John Kerry's campaign -- where Kerry attacked the idea of gay marriage, declared his support for anti-gay state amendments, and after losing to Bush, called his first gay-specific press conference to underscore his resolute opposition to marriage equality.

This year, Nancy Pelosi kicked off her "historic victory" by announcing that Democrats would preserve the military's anti-gay ban. She followed up that announcement with a decision to strike ALL gay-rights-related votes from the agenda. . . curtly informing rare gay-supportive Democrats that redressing a decade of anti-gay laws was not of even remote importance.

On state issues, things weren't any better -- in fact, they were rapidly deteriorating. Democrats raised millions of dollars from gay Americans but spent, by one account, less than $20,000 in the last election cycle to fight anti-gay state constitutional amendments. (Many Democrats, including Kerry, expressed support for those amendments).

One-time gay-rights superstar (and Democratic Party leader) Howard Dean appeared on Pat Robertson's television program to declare the party's resolute opposition to gay marriage -- going so far as to lie about what the Democrats' platform said to garner support.

Dean then shut down the gay outreach office at the Democratic National Committee and fired the party's gay outreach director because his partner wrote an e-mail critical of the Dems "lack of commitment" on gay issues.

(Incidentally, Outright Libertarians hasn't yet received a response to our inquiry to the Democrats asking when Dean is planning on firing James Carville due to his partner's criticism of Democrats. Then again, Carville is straight and Donald Hitchcock, the fired former gay outreach director, isn't. Make of that what you will).

After all of this, one of gay activism's "quiet riders" has begun pursuing a new strategy, the Atlantic Monthly reports:

Gill’s decision to shift away from national politics seems dictated even more by his philosophy about how to engage most effectively in politics than by the mediocre gains chalked up during the Clinton years. “If your objective is to innovate and take risks, you move faster with a small group,” Gill’s political director, Guerriero, told me. “If Columbus had needed a conference call before setting sail for America, he’d still be at the dock.” (This kind of gridlock has long hampered the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay political organization.) Though Gill, too, has suffered disappointments, his grand experiment is, for better or worse, more consistent with the pragmatic direction of twenty-first-century politics than anything else on the Democratic horizon.

In short, Gill is targeting the most anti-gay politicians in the country, to prevent the worst bills from coming to light -- without regard to the Democratic Party's priorities. This approach could, theoretically, send gay money to Republicans, Libertarians, Greens or independents against Democrats -- and it holds Democrats to account for their lousy approach on gay rights.

It also is taking gay money away from the Democratic Party front groups like HRC, NGLTF, and GLVF that masquerade (almost fraudulently) as "nonpartisan." And that has the Democratic Party's scions quite upset with you, me, and every other gay person who has decided that the Democratic party is worthless. Gay Democratic luminary Jeff Soref complains:

"One of the problems with Tim’s strategy is that he’s turning people away from national politics at a time when Democrats have just achieved a big victory — one that we weren’t as big a part of as we might have been, perhaps because of his steering gay money away from the national level. I’ve personally gotten calls, pre- and postelection, from Democratic leaders who feel the gay community has not been as supportive in this election as in previous ones."

Of course, what have Democrats done to earn that money? Zero. In fact, many have harmed gay people and then come calling later for additional cash. Soref issues a thinly-veiled threat about the "dire consequences" of demanding a return on our political investment:

"There’s a tangible downside to disengaging. In a competitive environment, our issues may not get the attention we want them to get."

What he means is that Democratic presidents might sign DOMA laws instead of vetoing them. Ooops, Clinton signed DOMA.

What he must mean then is that Democrats won't be able to talk in an educated fashion about basic legal concepts like civil unions -- oops, that happened during Al Gore's run.

Perhaps he means that Democrats will go homophobic en masse and strongly support anti-gay constitutional amendments -- oops, like hundreds of Democrats in legislatures across the country, as well as John Kerry, did.

Hey, wait a minute -- there's no downside to this strategy after all. All we're doing is shifting our cash to candidates who deserve our support based on their positions and actions while in office. Executed fairly and properly, that can only be good for Libertarian candidates.

How about that? Holding politicians to account by supporting Libertarians can drive change after all. . . and the powers that be are already expressing their displeasure.

We must be on the right track.