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COMMENT: Why Obama could be good for gays

Paul Canning June 19, 2008
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When Hillary Clinton explicitly called for gay rights (twice) in her concession speech it was noteworthy. Why?
Because it was unknown previously for her to say the word gay in a public forum during the campaign, she even had trouble when it was a gay audience.

Yet despite this lack of upfront support, as well as the hangover from her husband’s support for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and ‘Defence of Marriage’, it is Clinton, not Obama, who ended the campaign with the Washington gay establishment in her pocket (Obama’s early gay support was mainly black or Chicagoan).

It was Clinton in whom much of the gay community had invested itself: to the point that some of her supporters are now saying they’ll join the small minority of gays who’ll vote for John McCain (the gay community is the most loyally Democrat after African-Americans and Jewish-Americans).

From Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi found one of the fanatical gay supporters who refuse to do Hillary’s bidding and ‘not go there’ (support McCain):

There are more like that. Here’s some on Michaelangelo Signorile’s Sirius Radio Show:

Yet it is Obama who has been most public, and more importantly, more confrontational, in his support for gays.

Back at the beginning of the campaign he gave a speech in the bull-pulpit of Martin Luther King’s Church in Atlanta and explicitly attacked how the black community had “scorned our gay brothers and sisters”.

This was actually the point at which I got seriously interested in him.

On the trail he consistently mentioned the word and often.

In redneck, small town Texas he said this at a rally.

“Now I’m a Christian, and I praise Jesus every Sunday. [But] I hear people saying things that I don’t think are very Christian with respect to people who are gay and lesbian.”

This was the point at which gay community support began to flip towards him.

What’s little known is that his time at the Trinity Baptist Church and his relationship with Rev. Wright undoubtedly reinforced this version of Christianity. Wright and Trinity supported gay people.

What problems he’s had with gays came from, firstly, including an anti-gay black gospel singer, Donnie McClurkin, on a tour and, secondly, from refusing an interview to a gay newspaper in Philadelphia. (He answered both in an interview with The Advocate). He has also been called out for not attending Chicago Gay Pride marches, although he’s supported them. Hillary has marched, though not in 2007 (and she had anti-gay preachers associated with her campaign).

Hillary first big problem was her evident issue on the campaign trail with not saying the word gay — even when speaking to a gay audience as she showed in this embarrassing Logo interview.

1:02 LOGO: “Your opponent, Senator Obama, regularly mentions gay people in his stump speech… You don’t mention gay rights all the time in your stump speech, you do when you’re in front of gay audiences, why is that?”

1:21 CLINTON: “Well I do mention, uh, from time to time, um, you know I don’t mention, you know, everything in every speech that I give, but uh people, you know, know how committed I am and they know what I’ve done, and that I led the efforts uh to try and defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, working with you know all of the major uh gay rights organizations, uh, so you know I’m gonna continue to not just talk about what I will do but demonstrate by my actions what I have done and will do.”

Her second was as the campaign got dirty and especially when she felt the need to assert her ‘testicular fortitude’ she referenced “San Francisco” when ‘bittergate’ struck, a long-standing right-wing anti-gay ‘dog-whistle’ and something which united San Franciscans in distaste, and stood by whilst a supporter used the “pansy” word.

Many weren’t impressed when she sent Chelsea into gay bars, rather than go herself. Though the photos were stunning.

The lowest point came at the end when at the 31st May Democrats Rules Committee (where the Florida and Michigan delegations were decided) her bused-in protesters happily took leaflets from a proven liar who’d claimed to have had sex and done drugs with Obama.

Clusters of people in Hillary shirts ask to take their photo with him, one woman covered in Clinton buttons introduces him to Greta Van Susteren, and he estimates he has handed out 500 fliers. “You could improve your credibility if you downplayed the gay sex and focused on the drugs,” sagely advises one Hillary supporter with auburn hair and elegant makeup. But in this universe, Sinclair’s credibility doesn’t seem to be suffering too much. In fact, he’s treated nearly as well as he might be at a meeting of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy. In the thirty minutes I stand with him, only one woman expresses disgust at his fliers and his willingness to chattily discourse on whether Obama is “good in bed.”

It came to this. And on the ‘gay dirt’ score, for Obama it will get worse.

When both candidates had virtually identical positions (Obama is slightly better) on gay issues – including both being against gay marriage – points like what they say to hostile audiences and whether they appear prepared to throw gays ‘under the bus’ become important to how they should be judged.

Unfortunately Hillary was originally the anointed candidate and the Washington gay organisations and leadership, including almost all of the gay press, consequently went for her.

And the unspoken element was race. Many comments supporting her on gay blogs, as elsewhere, referred to Barack Hussein Obama and some were explicitly racist or offered racist anecdotes regarding Obama. This reflected the also unspoken racial schism in the gay community.

On his record during the campaign, a President Obama definitely looks like he’ll be good for the gays.

He included and didn’t pander – consistently. After Hillary endorsed him he is already doing the outreach to her gay supporters. Whether the gay establishment will be getting any White House sleep-overs is another matter entirely.

Andrew Sullivan had a great summary of what an Obama Presidency might mean for the US gay community, a point which Obama himself made in his Advocate interview:

The Clinton model – exemplified by the Human Rights Campaign – is: give us some big donor checks, we’ll hire a lobbyist (if you’re lucky), and we’ll work the Democratic party establishment to give you your equality (which somehow never happens). Meanwhile: keep whining (and sending the checks). The Obama model is: you will only get your equality if you stand up for it, risk your job, status, even life for the sake of your own integrity. Stop whining and start explaining and persuading and acting.

So many gay people over the years have asked me where our “leader” is. It’s the wrong question. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Be the change you want to see in the world. And the world changes. In exact proportion to the number of gay people who have abandoned their fear and self-hatred, it already has. No excuses, guys. And no need to wait.

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