Part One Of A Two Part Queerty Analysis

Will Gay Delegate War Spoil The Race?

With only six primaries left – and Barack Obama‘s resounding lead over rival Hillary Clinton – many people have basically declared the delegate selection over. That, however, would be premature.

While the majority of the states and overseas regions’ delegate numbers have been determined, most of them must still decide which individuals will head to Denver this August. have ruled which candidate gets how many delegates, most of them still must decide who will head to Denver this August. And, like so many things in this election, there’s loads of drama surrounding the process. Infighting, allegations, personal homophobia and potentially impotent DNC “gay delegate goals” may derail the whole process.

Editor Andrew Belonsky offers part one of an extensive two-part analysis, after the jump…

The Democratic party proved themselves relatively progressive last year when they passed the Shay Amendment. That measure, put forth by gay DNC member Garry Shays, originally requested that the party add gays and disabled voters to the party’s affirmative action guidelines, which would have been a tremendously powerful move.

Unfortunately, many leaders – particularly superdelegate Donna Brazile – scoffed at the idea and worried that such a push would take away seats from other constituencies, like Asians or African-Americans.

Rather than amending the affirmative action policies, Shay’s proposal birthed the aforementioned “gay goals:” lavender-tinged markers set by each state.

Some of you may be wondering why it matters to have queers in Denver. Well, aside from proving the Democratic parties inclusive nature, delegate participating guarantees gays a stake in the party’s platform, helps form the connections integral to national politics and, in some cases, inspires people to run for office.

That said, it should come as no surprise that the National Stonewall Democrats are using all their power – and over $60,000, at least $10,000 of which came from the DNC – to push the gay goals. To this end, the non-profit established Pride In The Party, headed by longtime Democratic activist Rick Boylan. Boylan and his peers have been having “productive” discussions with party leaders across the country, including in Washington DC, to ensure the Shay Amendment doesn’t fizzle.

Now that these states are finally selecting their individual delegates, however, there’s trouble brewing beneath the surface and we gays may find ourselves this election’s spoilers.

The trouble first crossed my desk when an anonymous source sent me a letter penned by Clinton-backing Jon Winkleman, a civil rights attorney who claims Obama locals in Louisiana were making a concerted effort to push potential gay delegate out of the process. Louisiana set its gay goal at five.

In addition to providing insight into campaign infighting, Winkleman also provides easily digestible background on the difference between regular delegates and “at-large” delegates, who help make up the difference for any underrepresented group. I’ve done editing for chronological reasons:

This year the Louisiana Democratic Party elected it first group of openly LGBT people to serve on the state committee and form a small but still groundbreaking LGBT caucus. Wonderful. [This weekend] the Louisiana state party [selected] at-large delegates for the convention. Traditionally if the numerical diversity goals aren’t met when delegates are elected in the state primary or caucus, the at-large delegates will make up for the difference.

As Obama had a strong win in Louisiana, his campaign gets to select most of the at large delegates. His campaign SHOULD be selecting three-to-four LGBT delegates from their total at large delegates. There are four LGBT running for at large to be pledged to Obama. However each campaign has the right to strike any name off the ballot they choose. Friends of mine in Louisiana have been told by Obama people in Louisiana that all of the LGBT delegates will be struck from the list. They verbally said such.

Obama supporters actively pushing against gay delegates? That definitely qualifies as a wildly distressing allegation, and one that had me wondering if Winkleman’s simply spouting partisan politics.

In an effort to find the truth, I contacted Eric Stern, a former John Edwards supporter who signed up with Barack Obama’s campaign following Edwards’ exit from the race. Not surprisingly, Stern flat out denied Winkleman’s words, calling them “unsubstantiated” and “inaccurate.” He later sent an email in which he promised the national campaign definitely backed gay delegates and was “working diligently” to ensure the states meet their mythical goals.

Stern went on to explain what went down in Louisiana, including a worrisome bit about that state’s central Democratic leadership:

Four openly gay candidates ran for delegate in Louisiana. Three of the candidates were pledged to Clinton; one was pledged to Obama. Only one of the openly gay candidates was elected (Stephen Handwerk–a Clinton pledged delegate). Senator Obama sent a letter of enthusiastic support on behalf of Derrin Bergeron–the openly gay Obama delegate candidate. The Louisiana Democratic Party demonstrated some resistance to the LGBT affirmative action goals set forward and approved by the DNC.

“Resistance?” Obviously my ears perked up and I soon found myself on the line with Julie Vezinoti, press spokesperson for the Louisiana Democratic Party.

Ms. Vezinoti and I first discussed that alarming adjective, “resistance,” and the politico assured me that no one, to her knowledge, had tried to strike gays from the delegate selection process, “No, that isn’t true at all… We’re all really positive about getting as many people involved as possible.”

It’s at this point I should offer more extensive explanation on how the delegate selection goes down. Basically, anyone can run to be a delegate – you simply put your name on the party ballot, campaign as if running for office and let the votes stream – or trickle – in. The candidates do, however, have power over whether hopefuls move forward. A source close to the National Stonewall Democrats, who preferred not be named, explains:

The delegate selection process is really a top down thing that the national campaigns have an enormous amount of power over. On both sides, the campaigns are striking down potential delegates who they don’t feel are 100% loyal, people who they think are activists with agendas on the campaign or simply, just to make sure that their loyal people get elected. Or, in the case of the at-large delegates, to make sure they meet up with the diversity goals they fell short.

These at-large delegates are doled out in direct proportion to the candidate’s primary performance. As Winkleman’s letter explained, Obama led in Louisiana, so he received more at-large delegate slots. None of those have been filled with gay folk. Or, at least, no openly gay folk.

Boylan helped shed some light on why some states, such as Louisiana, have been having trouble meeting their mark. “There are so many factors in reaching goals,” he explained. “We have other categories in compiling what the Democratic party looks like in states, like a big puzzle. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Categories, or constituencies, definitely complicate the process, but that’s only part of the problem. Or, rather, problems…

Read the rest of my discoveries – and the Democrats’ challenge – tomorrow. In the meantime, why don’t you enjoy the DNC-provided explanation of the convoluted delegate process. It’s a PDF, so be warned!
Delegate Rules