Aug 12 2007

The LGBT presidential forum convened by the Human Rights Campaign and the LOGO network last week was an historic event for our community. I am very proud of the progress that we have achieved and grateful to all those who made this event possible. Equally so, I’m encouraged that most of the Democratic candidates took the time to attend, which is a significant victory in and of itself. Among all the candidates who participated, there is not one I couldn’t support in the general election, despite my steadfast belief that the major candidates’ positions on marriage are cowardly. That said, I have some observations and concerns that I think are worthwhile to share.

First, John Edwards made me proud to support him. He was the first presidential candidate in a publicly televised forum to talk about the unique and difficult experience faced by LGBT teens and runaways. Further, he embraced the rights of transgendered people in the workplace and talked about visiting our community’s institutions, including the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. He specifically declared that all sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) should be repealed and that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was wrong from day one. Here’s a short clip:

Barack Obama might have been asked some of the toughest questions of the night, but he was authentic throughout his interview. The panel did an excellent job of following up to press him on the details, a technique which may have improved the forum at other points. But he seemed less presidential than I had hoped and a little unsure, perhaps even a little uncomfortable. However, he was impressive as he spoke of his outreach to non-LGBT communities, a point which I found relevant and important. In general, he was basically good on the issues.

Poor Bill Richardson, what was he thinking when he answered the simple question about whether people choose to be gay or not? I felt sorry for him because he seemed tired and uncomfortable. He has been a long-time friend of the LGBT community and I hope we can forgive his misstatement. His deeds have earned our respect and hopefully this was just a slip.

Dennis Kucinich was spectacular and it is just too bad that the Congressman has never been able to break through as a major candidate. The others could learn from both his presentation and his powerful and articulate advocacy for marriage. Mike Gravel was a thoughtful voice for marriage and I couldn’t agree more with him that in four years, marriage will most likely be a non-issue.

Hillary Clinton was poised and presidential, and she took command of the stage and a very friendly audience. Unfortunately, she was uniquely burdened by her husband’s term in office, and having been personally involved in some of the failed policies she was asked to discuss, I found her view of history to be, well, convenient.

I understand any candidate’s desire to spin the past to cover up mistakes, but our community cannot create a better future by forgetting its past.

First, Clinton’s claim that DOMA was passed so it could help defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) eight years later is absolutely false. As we all know, the FMA wasn’t really a threat until 2002, and the two pieces of legislation had distinctly separate origins. While having DOMA on the books might have been a factor in the FMA’s defeat, it was passed for political reasons in an election year. In fact, after proclaiming to the community how painful it was for him to sign it, President Clinton’s reelection campaign had ads up in the South touting the legislation within two weeks!

Just think about this for a moment – Clinton essentially said that it was good to pass and sign an oppressive and discriminatory law in order to avoid something worse eight years later. I simply cannot accept this version of history or policymaking strategy.

Then, while spinning its genesis, Clinton failed to advocate the overturning of DOMA, as both Edwards and Obama did earlier in the program. She stated that she supports only a partial repeal of the law, a glaring difference which the panel should have honed in on. Additionally, I think the panel could have questioned her position on published reports that her husband advised John Kerry and other candidates to support state and federal amendments banning marriage in 2004.

I have written before about Clinton’s spinning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a beneficial “transitional step” towards full integration of gays and lesbians in the military. But I hardly think that the 11,000 men and women who have had their military careers ended and their personal lives damaged since 1993 view Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as sympathetically. As I recall, the policy was never discussed as a transitional step. It was hastily produced and passed, by a Democratic President and Congress, to extract the new administration from of a political mess of its own making.

Let’s also remember what this destructive policy requires of LGBT service members today, 14 years later. They must lie about their personal lives to their co-workers and friends and cannot even mention a partner or lover back home. They must hide pictures of shared intimate moments that every couple, straight or gay, cherish so much. They can’t take leave to care for an ill partner. Most troubling, they must live in constant fear of being exposed. And if they slip up and disclose any of these things, they risk expulsion and a dishonorable discharge that may affect their future employment as a private citizen.

This was simply a dreadful policy from the very beginning, and I personally feel that any claim otherwise is just as hurtful as the policy itself.

I appreciate all of the Democratic candidates’ increasingly progressive perceptions of and positions on LGBT equality, including Hillary Clinton. But our LGBT history – how we got to the place where we now stand – is sacred. As a community we cannot forget our past struggles, no matter how easy it might be to do so, because they will guide us through the adversity we face today and in the future.