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Gay-baiting in the Virginia governor's race

[UPDATE: I’m moving this post up because I’m interested in more discussion, and I added more on lesbian-baiting. Blender Sean in Dallas added some art at the end too.]

I don’t know what to think of this bottom-feeding campaign. Is Repug Jerry Kilgore gay because he has a queeny voice? Or is it that his effeminate voice when paired with his homophobic positions – no gay marriage, no gay adoption, no civil unions, etc., leads one to the conclusion that the married-with-kids conservative is a self-loathing closet case? Or is he just a bigoted Repug that has a “gay-sounding,” rural voice that is being gay-baited by the other side, playing on people’s stereotypes and prejudices?

Opponent Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) is raising that spectre, and people are talking — get a load of this editorial in the Cavalier Daily:

So, Jerry Kilgore has a “gay-sounding” voice. This is apparent to almost anyone who has heard him speak. The Republican candidate also has a rural accent, but that’s not what his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, has been making fun of. Few outlets have dealt with this issue honestly, though several papers have danced playfully around it, such as the Staunton Daily News Leader, which has commented on “the ‘Ned Flanders meets Mr. Rogers‘ whine that passes for Kilgore’s voice.”

These comments are, of course, meaningless, and insinuations drawn from Kilgore’s “gay-sounding” voice are based solely on unfounded stereotypes. There is no distinct correlation between voice and sexuality and Kilgore, for his part, is married and has two children.

But for Virginia Democrats, the idea of connecting Kilgore to a slate of negative stereotypes associated with gay men — and to therefore weaken his support among conservative voters — has proven tempting. Discussion of Kilgore’s effeminate tone has been all over the Internet for months, and prominent Virginia bloggers have repeatedly speculated on Kilgore’s sexuality and the effect his voice could have on the election. Suggesting that Kilgore’s “gay-sounding” voice gives the impression that he is “weak” and effeminate, some online commentators have implored the Kaine campaign to take advantage of Kilgore’s voice in order to implicitly connect him to gay stereotypes.

The Kaine campaign in my mind is crossing the line. If you have some factual information about Kilgore being a gay hypocrite and not just a homo-bigot with a sissy-boy voice, then out the guy. If you want to just point-blank ask the man if he’s gay, do it. Don’t do bush-league crap like this:

Last week, the Kaine campaign debuted a radio ad, “Weak.” As the title would suggest, the spot suggests that Kilgore is “too weak to lead Virginia.” Has Kilgore done anything, more than most other politicians, to define himself as “weak?” That’s not clear. What is clear is the throwaway line in the “Weak” spot: “Jerry Kilgore is not being straight.” The Kaine camp fails to add the obligatory “with voters;” the ad simply observes, “Jerry Kilgore is not being straight,” period.

The bottom line is, if Tim Kaine wants to win by equating an effeminate voice with weakness and inability to lead, that’s bigoted as well, regardless of whether his political positions are more favorable to gays than his opponent. He needs to be called out on this. As the Mike Slaven editorial notes:

But even if one accepts the principle that ends can justify means, it is not clear that Kaine could ever benefit the gay community as much as he is damaging it with a campaign that insinuates that sexuality is a matter of public discussion and fair ground for humiliation. After all, if such indignity can happen to a conservative, married father of two with a flutter in his inflection, what keeps it from happening to a self-avowed gay man?

I’d refocus that slightly. Sexuality is a matter of public discussion if you are a hypocrite in the closet who intends to oppose legal equality for gays and lesbians in the office you seek.


Blender Sean in Dallas thought the Kaine campaign might want this little bit of handiwork for their man’s site, since sounding and appearing like a big old queen is all the rage…


Also, what about openly gay candidates that run? Is is OK for an opponent to run ads saying someone is “weak” if they are effeminate? What about dyke-baiting? Is that OK to do if you’re a purportedly pro-gay Dem?

What about taking on a person’s record, and their hypocrisy if that’s what is going on? That’s the issue at hand, not whether the guy swishes or sounds like Ned Flanders.

How does the person vote? How does the person lead? Are they a crook? Those seem to be more useful things to look at, not this kind of cheap shot.

Unless a campaign wants to publicly take on the justifiable charge that an opponent is an anti-gay homo, cut this vague, devious, dangerous sh*t out. It’s confusing the issue for the average voter, and perpetuating stereotypes about gays and lesbians as capable leaders.

Female candidates face gay-baiting all the time, as a slur to suggest they aren’t taking care of the hearth and home, that they are somehow fatally flawed, especially if they happen to hold pro-gay positions. Back in March I posted an item on the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission‘s report, “Written Out: How Sexuality is Used to Attack Women’s Organizing.” It specifically tracked the impact of this on women here and around the world.

“With the rise of fundamentalism in both the U.S. and abroad, we are seeing that women who take public leadership on any range of issues are on the receiving end of very calculated attacks,” says Susana Fried, IGLHRC’s program director. “We want to connect the dots to show how women’s sexuality is manipulated in this specific and increasingly common way to discredit and silence women around the world.”

The 189-page report, written by Cynthia Rothschild, documents examples of such attacks in countries ranging from the United States to Argentina, India, Thailand, Costa Rica and more. “If a woman is single, she’s attacked as a lesbian,” says Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. “If she’s married, she’s attacked for neglecting her family. Either way, the issue becomes gender and sexuality rather than the merits of the issue under discussion.”

One result, says Ettelbrick, is that it becomes more difficult for women’s groups to support gay and lesbian rights. “It makes our natural allies more afraid,” she says. “We see female politicians retreat into self-censorship. Not only do campaigns go down to defeat, but leadership and vision suffer as well.”

The Kaine campaign can and should do better than this. One would hope that if there were advisors or liaisons to the gay community in this campaign they wouldn’t have let this kind of nonsense out there, but as we’ve seen with the self-loathing, closet case gay Repugs, sometimes the paycheck and power are worth more to them than principles.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding