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You Can’t Just Say You Support Us

When one thinks of presidential candidates, whether Republican or Democratic, sincerity is often not the first word that comes to mind. The Nation Magazine recently did an expose exposing “pro-union” Hillary Clinton as having an associate of an anti-union firm as her chief advisor. Barack Obama has been trying to mold himself into some anti-war candidate, even as he refuses to follow Richardson’s lead in calling for a quick withdrawal from Iraq with “no residual forces” (political jargon for no military bases, no controlling presence in the country). These are just a few examples of why Presidential candidates are rarely seen as sincere. A candidate’s stated support for a cause does not always translate into them taking the necessary action to prove that support.

  As most who read me know, I always look for the queer angle of the issues that I write about. The Human Rights Campaign recently released a Presidential Report Card titled a “Report Card for Pro-Equality Voters”. This Report card consisted of 15 issues for the LGBT community: Federal Recognition of State-Level Same-sex unions, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Hate Crimes Legislation, Same-sex marriage, civil unions, federal benefits for same-sex couples Dont’t Ask Don’t Tell and adoption rights to name a few. 

With the exception of same-sex marriage (where Kucinich is the only supporter), the LGBT community enjoys unanimous support on every single listed issue from every Democratic candidate. This surprised me, mostly because that’s not what I see reflected in the actions of the Democratic candidates. I distinctly remember the belated reaction from he Hillary and Obama camps over Peter Pace’s remarks about homosexuality being “immoral”.

The disconnect between the stated support of our Democratic candidates and their actual support is indeed substantial. There is simply no excuse for Democratic candidates to hesitate in responding to a question about whether or not homosexuality is immoral, none. Furthermore, it borders on the outrageous to have these candidates list themselves as big pro-equality candidates and for the national LGBT organizations to trumpet this as a historic occasion. Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign had this to say about the report card:

“These candidates have expressed a unified belief and echoed the majority of the American people by stating that same-sex couples deserve federal recognition… It is extremely encouraging to finally see the focus of the debate around the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans center around extending the American value of equality to all people. 2008 is not 2004, and the American people have already put out the warning that divisive, wedge politics that pit neighbor against neighbor will not be tolerated.”

It is indeed a sign of progress for the candidates to at least on paper list themselves as supporters of issues pertaining to the LGBT community, however support means more than checking a box concerning your stance on an issue. It means using your power as a politician to push for real change, talking about the issues spontaneously on the campaign trail and not just to LGBT audiences.

The Human Rights Campaign did not give us a complete report card. Off the top of my head, I would love to hear the candidates’ position on U.S. asylum law and treatment of gay asylum seekers. The horror stories I?ve heard from U.S. asylum judges range from judges ruling that gay asylum seekers have no reason to apply for asylum if they never had gay sex to judges basing their rulings on how “gay looking” the asylum seeker is.

Furthermore, a more comprehensive report card would have asked the candidates to estimate how often they bring up LGBT issues on the campaign trail. They cannot keep their support for LGBT issues in the closet. By affirming these rights for the LGBT community through active public support, they would effectively use their influence as political leaders and prove their sincerity. The candidates also could have been criticized more in the press release for not endorsing marriage equality. The purpose of the Human Rights Campaign should not be to praise the candidates for being supportive of us except for on the biggest issue, marriage, but rather to continue to pressure candidates to believe in and actively campaign for marriage equality.

I am disappointed in the Human Rights Campaign, but more so, I am disappointed in the Democratic candidates for being too timid to mention gay rights on the campaign trail as often as they should.

We should not congratulate and praise candidates for supporting the repeal of DADT, supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or supporting Hate Crimes legislation. These issues enjoy widespread support in our nation (72% of Americans support a repeal of DADT, 60% support the ENDA and 68% support LGBT inclusive hate crimes legislation). Democratic Presidential candidates take absolutely no political risk in supporting these issues.

Progressive Democratic candidates need to take risks and support issues that may not enjoy near unanimous popularity in polling (such as marriage equality). Activists in other issues should be just as concerned at this pattern of our candidates playing it safe. We don’t need a safe candidate, we need a progressive leader to take this country in a direction it needs to go, which is a direction with bolder leadership that can support progressive change. If our candidates continue to play it safe, the progressive world risks winning an election in 2008 with the same DLC-esque type Democratic leadership that abounded in the 90s.

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