And Where They're Going...

Shifting Expectations: Where Gay Democrats Stand Now

[Benjamin Franklin penned the famous “Join, Or Die” cartoon in 1754, just as the colonies were coming together against Great Britain.]
Gay Democrats have been rightfully concerned about the convention’s queer inclusion, particularly after a dust-up between gay and black leaders within the party. The major discussion began back in 2006, when superdelegate Garry Shay proposed including gays in the party’s affirmative action policy. Some black leaders scoffed at the idea, which resulted in the aforementioned gay goals.

Though he refuses to speak on the original conflict, Marble insists those tensions have been resolved. And, in fact, evolved to their benefit: “You know, when we had the initial fight over the delegate rules – definitely this was not our preferred path at the beginning, but we realized that they had this compromise. This was something that we could actually work with… We realized that we could use that as an opportunity.” And that opportunity presented itself most clearly on the state level, where gay activists have been courting local parties and officials.

While states like North Dakota and Nebraska aren’t sending any known homos, Marble talks excitedly about other successes, such as Tennessee. Like some other states, Tennessee officials attempted to excuse themselves from gay goals by claiming they lacked the resources to track down the same-sex set. Using their ever-growing network of party peers, the NSD then worked with state party officials to link them up with gay activists, an effort Marble describes as well worth the trouble and initial hiccups.

I don’t want to say it was like pulling teeth, but it was definitely an educational experience in some communities and some states. That being said, we’re coming out of it at a place that has really repositioned some of these state parties – and that was our intent.

With inclusive voices in place, NSD hopes to garner legislative support for non-discrimination laws, hate crime expansion and other concerns close to queer communities. And, additionally, gay convention participants may later run for public office, as happened with Alabama state legislature Patricia Todd.

As press and pundits focus on numbers, DNC LGBT caucus leader Rick Stafford made clear this week that gay Democrats have a bigger task at hand:

If we are going to be successful in adopting a full equality agenda for the LGBT community, the most important focus in Denver is about electing Barack Obama as the next President of the United States… If we don’t elect Barack Obama, it stops anything that we might want to do in Congress in terms of marriage equality, in terms of hate crimes, employment discrimination, HIV/AIDS public policy… If we don’t elect Barack Obama, a lot of our agenda is going to be on hold for another four years.

To Stafford and others, gay delegates are more than a marker for the party’s rhetorical big tent, but a utility toward internal party progress.

The number slants aren’t merely a pat on the back for NSD and its allies – although, yes, there is a bit of self-congratulation – but a conscious effort to bolster voter confidence. Convinced that things are right on – or above – target, gay delegates and voters will be more inclined to discard old animosities and join the party fold. More than that, the NSD and its allies are looking to establish a gay bellwether, however symbolically.

Said Stafford: “We are messengers of a pro-equality message in the Democratic party and our candidate.” Like the likely Democratic presidential candidate, the gays become a harbinger of hope for a party once feared lost.