Kansas-based Democrat Gail Finney’s not into her party’s ideological big tent. Or at least not if it’s going to cost her an election.
Early this week, as the state was preparing to go to the primary polls, Finney surrogate Dr. Peggy Elliott launched a mail and phone campaign smearing Finney rival Inga Taylor, pictured, who could have become the state’s first lesbian, black lawmaker.
The call said, in part:
Inga Taylor considers it an honor that if elected, she will be the 1st openly gay African American Legislator in the United States. If you will go to the [gay group] Victory Fund website, you will see that they are excited about the same and working strategically to ensure that this candidate wins the election on tomorrow evening. Who would she be representing? Those that fund her from the east coast or 84th District? Is this what we want to be known for in Kansas? In Wichita?
Recipients answered a resounding “no” and gave the primary to Finney.
Victory Fund, which helps raise funds for homo-politicos, asked Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius to denounce Finney’s tactics and as her to step down as vice-chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party. Sibelius did not respond in time.
Finney needs to be taken to the woodshed for playing the race and gay card, especially against a fellow Dem. But Taylor won’t find much love from the Kansas Dems nor from the racist homos who visit this site.
I believe that Gail Finney is also African American which takes the race card off the table and clearly makes gay-hating the issue. The homophobia in the black community is strong, add to that the fear of the “east-coast elites” and you have the recipe for a an election victory. Gov. Sibelius should be ashamed.
WRITE Kansas Democratic Party
Don’t allow this Finny sunt to get a dime of State funds. She will make progressives (LGBT and straight) just NOT vote.
I’m embarrassed she’s a DEM.
Itâ€™s often said that good people shy away from the political process because politics is a dirty game. Iâ€™ve been in the midst of political happenings for over eight years, both in the Democratic Party and in the gay community. Iâ€™ve worked as Executive Director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party since 2002 and was a founding member of the Kansas Equality Coalition in 2005. I remember well the first day that I walked into Democratic Headquarters at the age of 17, and I also vividly remember the day people from across the state gathered in Emporia to form KEC; both are fond memories. Over the years, I have met some of the most incredible, amazing, and all-around awesome individuals through my political work. Iâ€™ve come to the conclusion that, at least in Kansas, the political process is full of good people.
What I have learned over the past week, though, is just how ugly this process can become and how quickly good people can get burned. I have watched people that I care deeply about have their image and reputation tarnished. I have seen feelings hurt, unkind words said, accusations boil into fervent rage, and the worst brought out in people and organizations Iâ€™ve always believed to be among the best.
I am, of course, talking about the recent primary fight between Inga Taylor and Gail Finney for the Wichita-based 84th Kansas House District seat. The aftermath of this primary has resulted in the gay and black communities in Wichita nearly going to war with each other, and over the past few days a handful of people have worked to prevent this.
Both Inga and Gail are long-time residents of northeast Wichita and have been active in various organizations and community groups. Both have a long history of involvement with and support of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party. Both are people Iâ€™ve respected and considered friends. Both also decided to seek the same office, setting up an interesting dynamic. Inga is an out-lesbian and one of the few prominent members of the local African American community brave enough to be honest about her sexuality. Gail is also a prominent voice in the African American community and has served as Vice Chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party since November of 2006. The race pitted two African American women against each other, one a lesbian and one a party official.
I draw this distinction to highlight the unique and awkward position this put me in. I am both gay and a Democratic Party employee. I have a strong desire to support members of our community like Inga who are courageous enough to stand up and make their voices heard; I am also answerable to the executive committee that Gail serves on. While this made for an awkward dynamic, at no time during the race did I ever feel uncomfortable by anything Inga or Gail did in regard to how they treated me and the position I was in. I was never pressured by either to do anything that would compromise my integrity or loyalty to either the party or the gay community.
The flood gates on this delicate balancing act broke loose last week, however, and though no one deliberately involved me in what transpired, I found myself in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation.
The Victory Fund, a DC based organization that has had a bevy of success in electing openly gay men and women across the country, naturally became very interested in this race. Before Gail or anyone else was even an official candidate, the group began strategizing how they could help make Inga the first openly gay State Legislator in Kansas and the first out-lesbian African American public official in the country. With homophobia running deep within this community and with there always having been a certain level of discomfort within black circles over the issue of homosexuality, Inga is the natural bridge to this divide. She is a mother, a grandmother, a community activist, and a strong person of faith; she also happens to be gay. Victory Fund correctly believed that having her voice in the Kansas Legislature would do a world of good in increasing understanding and acceptance for both communities.
I am however, not sure that they understood some basic dynamics of the race and it is this issue that has partly caused the huge divide that now exists over the aftermath of the campaign. Tom Witt and I both met with staffers from The Victory Fund during the late spring of this year. I was quick to point out that their only opponent, Gail Finney, was quite supportive of LGBT rights. Neither Tom nor I ever believed that she would personally use Ingaâ€™s sexual orientation against her in the race. Rather, we suspected that a whisper campaign would formulate to spread this information to voters in hopes that it would dissuade them from supporting Inga. Tom stressed the importance of tying in local supporters to the Taylor campaign and strongly relying on a field program that expanded the usual base of the small turnout primary voters. After this initial meeting, Tom became frustrated with The Victory Fund for what he felt was their lack of responsiveness to his ideas, and he eventually gave up on having any input in the campaign.
Ultimately, over $35,000 was invested in the race on Ingaâ€™s behalf. Much of this money Inga raised herself through help from The Victory Fund. There was also a third-party group established that spent money on the race. A campaign manager was provided for Inga as were other helpers and ground troops later in the race. When campaign finance reports became available late in July, it became apparent that Inga had the upper hand financially, as Gail had raised only around $6,000 for her race. Once the finances of the race were publicly known, all hell broke loose.
Gail quickly took issue with an out of state group trying to influence a local election. She sent out a post card stating, â€œAn out of state group with a hidden agenda was trying to buy the seatâ€; she also made a robo call with the same message. Neither the mail nor the call mentioned anything about Ingaâ€™s sexual orientation. The one thing that did directly mention her sexual orientation was a post to the Kansas Meadowlark blog that blasted Inga for being funded by an out of state gay special interest group. Gail received a copy of this e-mail and forwarded it on to several people. Even before this, though, the whisper campaign we all knew would happen was in full swing. Dr. Peggy Elliott, a supporter of Gail, was circulating an e-mail questioning if Kansas really wanted to be known for electing a black lesbian. Other people, speaking independently of Gail, were making their negative opinions known as well.
The Taylor campaign quickly felt overwhelmed by these attacks. At the same time, Gail felt she was being mischaracterized, insisting that her issue was with out of state money and not gay out-of-state money. Tensions were rising high between the African American community and the gay community. I believe at this point the issues spiraled so far out of control that neither candidate could contain them.
Things got very ugly, very fast. The sentiment that â€œthe gaysâ€ were trying to buy a legislative seat and dictate who would represent the district quickly rose. People at a public forum peppered Inga with rude and hateful questions about her sexual orientation the day before the election. The undercurrent of discomfort between the black and gay communities that has existed for so long had been stirred so much in the final days of this race that it could not be contained. As Election Day rolled around, it became clear that although someone was going to be victorious at the polls, both sides were going to lose no matter who actually won.
In the end, Gail won the race with 57% of the vote to Ingaâ€™s 43%. 543 people voted for Gail, while 415 voted for Inga. The end of the race was only the beginning of the ill feelings and tensions, though. Victory Fund had called on Gail to drop out of the race the morning of the election for what they perceived as gay-baiting tactics by her campaign. They went so far as to drag the Governor into the mix and demand that she call on Gail to both quit the race and resign her position as Vice Chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party.
When the race was lost, they proceeded to post a story on their website that characterized Gail and the Sedgwick County Democratic Party as bigoted and homophobic. By the middle of the day Wednesday, I had received over 40 e-mails to my party e-mail account from people all around the country demanding that Gail resign immediately and accusing the Sedgwick County Democratic Party of being a hateful, bigoted organization. Many e-mails were calling Gail names like â€œbigotâ€, â€œcuntâ€, â€œwitchâ€, â€œwhoreâ€, â€œhomophobe,â€ etc. I also received several e-mails that were directed to me personally, essentially accusing me of being a sell-out and a pathetic excuse for a homosexual. I have copied a few of my favorite ones below to highlight the level of vitriol they contained:
comments: Gay activist Jason Dilts needs to resign his position with the Democratic Party. Working for an organization that openly supports hate is an affront to the gay rights movement and counter to what he claims to stand for. I hope he will do the right thing and walk away.
comments: Please forward the following message to Jason Dilts, executive officer of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party:
I read on your MySpace page that you want to move to Boston. Please know that unless you have the backbone to resign your position with the Democratic Party that I will personally ensure that you are never hired by any liberal political group in this state. I hope you will do the right thing.
comments: Jason Dilts is a pathetic excuse for a homosexual. How dare he parade himself around as a gay activist and then have the audacity to work for this homophobic party. Disgusting!! He need to go!
Suddenly, I found myself in the awkward and extremely uncomfortable position of either being a hero for resigning or being labeled a sell-out and a â€œGay Uncle Tomâ€ for continuing to do my job. The sad truth is that my experience with the Sedgwick County Democratic Party has been the exact opposite of what Victory Fund and other people from around the country who Iâ€™ve never met were portraying it as. When I was 17 years old, I first walked into Sedgwick County Democratic Headquarters and instantly found exactly what I needed as a young gay man just out of the closet and awkwardly trying to find a place in the worldâ€”a space where I could be myself and be accepted for who I am and the talents I have. The people I have known and worked with over the years have always been extremely accepting of me being gay and have fully embraced me as a person. I have always been judged by my talents, ability, hard work, and character and not by my sexuality by everyone I have worked with at both the local and state levels of the Democratic Party in Kansas; activists, party officers, and elected officials have universally been supportive. In fact, the bad rap that Kansas has around the nation as being a backward, narrow-minded, homophobic state is the exact opposite of what I have found to be true.
At the same time, I understand and feel extremely bad about the hurt feelings and deep pain Inga has experienced. She is a genuinely good person who doesnâ€™t deserve anyone disparaging her for her sexual orientation. She, too, should be judged by her talents and character, which I have always known to be immensely beautiful. I really feel that a lot of good people have been caught up in a really bad situation. I guess thatâ€™s the sad but innate nature of politics.
Another sad fact about politics is that situations often become larger than individual people, and thatâ€™s exactly what transpired in the aftermath of Gailâ€™s victory in the primary. By Friday of this past week, tensions were so high between the black and gay communities that a public blood-bath seemed inevitable at the county partyâ€™s scheduled Central Committee Meeting on Saturday. Members of the African American community were prepared to storm in and denounce the tactics of the Victory Fund, their trying to buy this seat for â€œthe gaysâ€, and their maligning of Gail. Several members of the LGBT community were also on the march and wanted to demand Gailâ€™s resignation from the county party executive committee. The last thing anyone needed was more division between these two important communities who already have a long history of being at odds with each other. A rapprochement of some sort was needed to prevent a public fissure that would have a lasting impact on public policy for the LGBT community in this state for years.
What resulted was mediation between Gail Finney and Tom Witt. Kelly Johnston, Chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party mediated, and I was also present. The goal was to defuse tensions between the two communities and try to come up with some way to prevent a public fracturing of these two important elements of the progressive coalition. At the beginning, I was doubtful that this could be achieved. Never before in my life had I felt more personally saddened, upset or disturbed. Two communities I cared deeply about were divided and about to permanently split. No matter what, some people were going to walk away with hurt feelings and permanent damage could perhaps not be avoided. The last place I wanted to be was in that room, but I knew it was the most important place for me to be.
Over the course of five often-tense hours, however, positive things began to happen. For perhaps the first time in our stateâ€™s history, representatives from the black and gay communities came together to have a frank and serious discussion about the long-standing cultural tensions that have always existed between black and gay people. Both sides aired their grievances over what transpired during the campaign. Both sides were able to voice the concerns that their supporters and constituents had. In the end, a joint statement was issued where both Gail Finney and Tom Witt pledged to work together to advance civil rights for all Kansans.
I donâ€™t envy Tom in any way and feel he, too, was put in an impossible position. He was sitting at the table representing an entire community with the person who had just defeated his good friend in a primary a few days earlier. A heavy burden rested on his shoulders to balance everyoneâ€™s interest. No matter what Tom did, there were people who would be upset and have valid reasons to feel that way.
This statement did not satisfy everyone who has seen and read it, though, and many feel that the gay community was sold out. I understand and am very sympathetic to these feelings. I can only offer what I know to be the truth as a defense. Had we not walked out with a statement that both Tom and Gail could take back to the gay and black communities, a public war between these communities would have ensued. Politically, LGBT rights would have been set back at least half a decade in this state, as it would have made working with African American elected officials extremely difficult if not impossible. It would have also only further widened the divide that already exists and would particularly have harmed those who are both black and gayâ€”the voices who are perhaps the most important to hear. We have a lot of divisions within our own community now, and I hope that we can work to heal those over time. We all need each other if we are going to win in this struggle.
This brings me to my last important point. Whatever anyone thinks of The Victory Fund, the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, Gail Finney, Tom Witt, or me, I hope we can all be in agreement that Inga Taylor deserves our respect and admiration. Caught in the crossfire of political debates between groups she represents by virtue of her very existenceâ€”women, African Americans, gaysâ€”she has the audacity to be herself. She is both strong and courageous. While she may not have won this race, she has succeeded in starting a dialogue within the black community over the issue of sexual orientation that might never have occurred had she not been a candidate. The long-term impact of this cannot be stressed enough. Years from now, when young black kids can easily come out of the closet and be accepted and embraced by their parents, churches, and communities, they will have Inga Taylor to thank.
I want to close this with a personal statement so that many of you who have asked why I continue to do what I do can perhaps gain some understanding. After reading this, I hope you will understand just how awkward a position I have been in and continue to be in. I have given serious thought to stepping down from my position within the Democratic Party, not because I ever felt unwelcome or unwanted, but because I felt uneasy by being in the midst of so much tension. Ultimately, I have to be true to what I know is right, and I believe that finishing out this year as Executive Director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party is the best thing for the many people and groups of people I care deeply about. I have worked hard over the past 8 years to build a party organization that is strong, diverse, and sustaining. I am proud of my work and proud of the many people who worked with me to make it possible. I must see it through to this Novemberâ€™s election. After that, I will be moving onâ€”a decision I made long before this controversy exploded. I hope that when I do leave, other people will remain here to carry forward the mantle of social justice, fairness, and equality.
Wherever I go next, I will remain proud to be both gay and a Democrat and I will always hold the people of Kansas and Sedgwick County in high esteem and regard. Politics is a dirty process, but these people have taught me that good people can fill the worst of spaces.
I have listened to everyone’s view of my race and I always love it when they say she never said gay. No just who are these people http://WWW.victoryfund.org no don’t say it just point the finger, so you can say I never said that. I beleive that the community needs to have an open dialogue, but in order for that to happien you can’t minimize what happien and to call it what it was. Hate just as I said at the form the day before the election. Buying the seat please what is the circle of fundraising for any campiagn. your own money, personal friends, ideology- where victoryfund came in, those with an ax-to-grind and people with power. Of course the Vise-Chair and past candidate knows that?? What transpired is exactly what Gail wanted. Victoryfund did not provide a manager for me I interview and hired my manager I chose me not for Kansas becuase I need to know that the person was only interested in my race with no hidden agenda!! There was people in the gay community that would not particiapte in my campiagn because they thought Tom Witt was apart and me saying he was not did not help. I believe people always show you their true colores and they were showed the week lending up to Aug. 5th. In order for both communities to move forward they need to look at who we have as leaders. I have been told what goes around comes around.
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