Just two decades ago, a presidential campaign turned down an offer from four gay men to raise a million dollars for his campaign. That campaign thought it would be too controversial to accept that much money which would be publicly identified as coming from the gay community. In 1992, when the same community raised nearly four million dollars for the campaign of President Bill Clinton, we considered it a victory when he mentioned us in his convention.
Today, however, is a different time and place with a new cast of characters: power brokers who support our issues in the Democratic party. In addition, we have political operatives in positions of real power in nearly every campaign. They are not in the historic position of gay and lesbian liaison to the campaign but hold responsibilities at all levels, ranging from fundraising to organizing to spokesperson.
Patrick Range McDonald, in Los Angeles Weekly, captures this new political force in an in-depth article about Obama fund raisers, Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford. In Obama's Gay Gold mine: A New Breed of Power Broker is Staking Out the White House, McDonald follows Bernard and Gifford as they navigate their fund raising for Obama. Young, smart and talented, they are raising millions in California for their candidate. McDonald brilliantly portrays the new generation of power brokers in the LBGT community
McDonald opens the article:
"Jeremy Bernard thinks he has been sucked into a time warp. Only five months ago, he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Senator Barack Obama in the back of a black SUV, speeding through West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard, talking about the fine points of gay and lesbian federal legislation. An hour later, the Democratic presidential candidate was hitting every detail they had discussed in the car, but this time on network television. For Bernard, it was mind-blowing. The key fund-raiser for the Obama campaign was seeing his issues dramatically migrate from a personal chat to the national stage."
"During this long and bare-knuckled presidential-primary season, a campaign will get nowhere without very big money. And next to New York City, Southern California — more precisely, the Westside of Los Angeles — is the land cash-hungry politicians never ignore. But only a handful of people in this town have the contacts and relationships to deliver the big checks. It's an elite world, and one that Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford are capable of dominating."
McDonald captures the new independent spirit:
"Bernard and Gifford understand their make-or-break roles. It's the prime reason they went into fund-raising. Gay issues are central to their own political agendas, and they know from years of experience that money gives them unique and up-close access to power. They have the luxury, after climbing to the top, of throwing their deep-pocketed connections only behind candidates who closely match their politics. "We work for candidates who we ourselves would be willing to give money to," says Gifford.
Once the checks are rolling in, Bernard and Gifford then have the full attention of a congressional or presidential candidate, giving them the chance, behind the scenes, to promote their own political issues. It's a level of access gays once only dreamed of, but they are living it.
"Being gay makes you inherently political," says Gifford, comfortable with using his proximity to power to influence the candidate. "You see what's right and what's wrong, and you need to do something about it."
Bernard and Gifford have very little, if anything, in common with the Old Gay approach typified by the Human Rights Campaign's need for straight actresses to peddle an agenda. They are the new guard, or New Gays, who are more politically savvy. The New Gays cultivate, work with and fund gay political candidates. They withhold their talents and money from straight politicians who don't follow through on their promises, while supporting those with what they view as a progay track record.
And they never seek the straight world's approval for their own gay existence. The New Gays understand their power in today's political system, and they use it. And in this winter's slog of primaries, they just might use it to propel a candidate toward the White House."