Friday, 29 October 2010 00:56

The Ties That Bind & Break

Written by 

The alliance between LGBT and the Democratic Party and how the union may be impeding civil rights.

LGBT have had a loyalty to the Democratic Party, overwhelmingly supporting and voting for candidates who are Demcorats. Although I occasionally talk to LGBT who support independent or Green Party candidates, rarely do I talk to LGBT who voice support for Republican candidates. We have been conditioned to believe that the Democratic Party is progressive, left of center, liberal, and an ally of the LGBT community. However, when we examine the votes and positions Democrats in power take on LGBT rights, a more complicated picture emerges.

Republicans receive the majority of the negative attention from the LGBT community. We often hear the rhetoric about the Republican Party, how they are the party of anti-gay, anti-choice politicians who want to keep us in the dark ages. For those of us in the LGBT community, Republicans are easy to vilify. They often openly make anti-gay statements and usually vote against any and all LGBT rights legislation. The Republican Party's pro-life, anti-gay, overtly religious positions easily riles progressives. However, by focusing so much on vilifying the Republicans, we often overlook anti-gay, anti-choice Democrats in our own backyard; Democrats supported by progressives and the LGBT community who routinely vote against progressive legistlation including LGBT rights.

Even though Democrats are seen as allies of the LGBT community we have little to show for it. The Obama administration has occupied the White House and Democrats have controled the House and Senate for almost two years. If LGBT rights were a priority for Democrats we should have laws on the books to demonstrate it. However, despite having a Democrat in the White House and a Demcorat-controled House and Senate, we have seen little progress towards LGBT rights and protections under the law. LGBT rights legislation has come up for votes on only two occasions since Democrats took control of the White House, Senate, and House: the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), which would allow gay members of the military to serve openly; and The Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would make it a federal crime to attack someone due to their sexual oreination or gender identity. Only one passed and was made law, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The Employment NonDiscrimination Act (EDNA), which would prohibit employers from discriminating against employees simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity, has been pushed by gay rights organizations but hasn't even made it out of committee for a vote since 2007 and when it did it was defeated with many Democrats voting against it.

How did LGBT rights legislation fail when our so-called allies were in control? Why can't we even get a vote on EDNA in a Democrat-controled Congress? Simply put, we could have the legislation we so desprately need passed if Democrats would unite in support of LGBT equality. Unfortunately, there are Democrats who vote with Republicans and against LGBT equality each and every time. These are the elected officials that need our scruitiny, our criticism, our outrage.

Democrats have lagrely escaped our radar when it comes to gay rights but when examined we see their specific role in holding back equality. When a vote to repeal DADT came before Congress a total of 29 Democrats in the Senate and House voted against the repeal. Twenty Democrats voted against passing the Hate Crimes Bill in the House and Senate . The Democrats who vote against LGBT legislation are often Blue Dog Democrats, a group of politicians who are affiliated with the Democratic Party but who often vote with Republicans. Blue Dogs such as Heath Shuler (D-NC), Mike Ross (D-AR), and Collin Peterson (D-MN) voted against repealing DADT and against the Hate Crimes Act. These Democrats are often referred to as DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) due to their frequent siding with the Republican Party on key issues that are often central to progressives, LGBT rights being one of them.

We have seen progress in repealing DADT in the justice system, but it is a fight that is not led by Democrats. A group of gay Republicans (Log Cabin Republicans) took the fight to end DADT to court and won. A judge ruled that the military must end DADT in a landmark case that did what a Democrat-controled Congress and White House could not do. But the court's ruling ending DADT was appealed. Who appealed the decision and asked that the discriminatory policy stay in effect? The Obama Administration who was overwhelmingly supported by the LGBT community. Regretfully, anti-gay votes and positions do not end with a handful of Democrats who hold back our civil rights, it goes to the core of the national party itself.

Not only have many of our Democratic elected officials voted against LGBT equality, but the Democratic National Committee itself has at its head an anti-gay, anti-choice, conservative leader. When looking to replace DNC Chairman Howard Dean in 2009, the Democrats looked no further than the anti-gay, conservative former Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine. The Chariman is elected by members of the DNC which is composed of two hundred members across the United States. Those 200 members chose Kaine, one of the most regressive Democrats they could have chosen, to lead their party. Kaine has openly opposed gay rights, supported the marriage amendment in Virginia which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, and has even taken a stand against civil unions. Not only do we only have to fight Blue Dog Democrats who stand in the way of LGBT equality, we can now add the Democratic National Committee to the list. If anyone has any doubts as to where the Democratic Party is headed one only needs to look at Kaine's appointment as chair of the party to get a feel for the direction. As the Republican Party moves right, the Democrats follow.

When it comes to describing what direction the Democrats are going in, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville hits the preverbial nail on the head in her blog. McEwan identifies the root cause of the Democrat's agenda correctly when she remarks "...the Dems’ move rightward as they chase an elusive victory, they’re willing to throw gays to the wolves—and women’s right to choice is next on the chopping block. Already we’re seeing Dems who support disastrous legislation like parental notification laws or are openly pro-life, if not explicitly anti-choice. What’s next? Who’s next? What will be your turning point before you finally stand up and say enough as enough?"

When discussing this with fellow progressives and people in the LGBT community I am often asked the same question: "What can we do? The alternative is much worse". I am surrounded by Democrats who argue that we should vote for an anti-gay Democrat in order to keep an anti-gay Republican out of office. What I find the most frustrating is the continued blind loyalty to the Democratic Party amongst gays and lesbians. Even though Democrats time and time again have voted against giving equal rights to the LGBT community, they can count on our vote to get re-elected. We have been told repeatedly that we must vote for Democrats who vote against our own civil rights because they are not as bad as their Republican counterparts. This "lesser of two evils" argument is often successfully used by Democrats to garner the support of the LGBT community. But should we be voting for anti-gay candidates simply because they are Democrats? Will voting the lesser of two evils bring the change we need?

As long as the "lesser of two evils" argument is enough on local, state, and national levels to get our votes and our support, we LGBT will wait in vain for equality. However, if we expect more and require more than just the bare minimum, there will be more elected officials who stand for civil rights. Democrats who make the "lesser of two evils" argument act as if there will never be a Republican in the White House again or a Republican majority in the congress. We have lived through those before and will do so again. When Democrats lose the White House and/or the majority in Congress at least let it be because the LGBT community sent a clear message: stand up or go home. Can we afford to elect another politician who stands in the way of LGBT civil rights and basic protections under the law? I personally know that we cannot. People say we have so much to lose. Do we? LGBT have little to lose since only one law sits on the federal books to protect us as it is. Maybe the only thing we have to lose is self-respect when we continue to send people to represent us who do everything but that.

LGBT lives are affected each and every day by the lack of laws protecting us and by our lack of equality. Each lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered person has a story, a personal battle with discrimination and inequality. My personal battle with discrimination has taught me one thing: unequivocal support from our elected representatives for LGBT rights is the only support that will promote change and bring about the equality we have waited so long for. When will the LGBT community stand together against anti-gay Democrats and their supporters? It is time for LGBT and our allies to send a clear message: no more. It is time for progressives to expect more and require more from politicians than simply having a "D" beside their names to get our vote. It is time to say enough is enough.

LGBT and allies often stand together in boycotts of businesses that discriminate against LGBT or that contribute to anti-gay politicians and organizations and it is one of our best forms of sending a message and demanding change. It is time we use this same logical position against Democrats who have it in their power to actually change laws. Is holding our Democratic leaders and elected officials not so much more important than holding businesses such as Target and Best Buy accountable?

Thankfully, there is a growing number of progressives who are no longer willing to support anti-gay Democrats, who are no longer willing to accept anti-gay Democrats as the only option; LGBT who are no longer willing to vote against our own interests by voting for someone who stands in the way of civil rights. There is a growing number of people who are willing to look beyond Party affiliation, beyond soundbites, and beyond fear to choose a true ally. Groups such as GetEqual are leading the charge to hold Democrats accountable and are taking a stand against Democrats who have promised so much but delivered so little to the LGBT community.

I sincerely hope that gays and lesbians will stop following the lead of establishment and continue devaluing ourselves, putting our own civil rights on hold, placing other issues ahead of our own humane treatment. Frederick Douglass said "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them." The Democratic Party and elected officials are hoping you do just that: quietly submit. It is time for LGBT to stop the quiet submission. It is time for boldness, resolution, and courage in the face of our adversaries as well as our allies.