August 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Democrats find 2010 a tougher sell than 2008

Democratic National Committee Executive Director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon acknowledged that for LGBT voters, the ‘pace of change isn’t always fast enough.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Asking gay Americans to reignite their enthusiasm for the Democratic Party at the same time critics are assailing the party for its handling of federal LGBT legislation is no small challenge.

But that’s exactly what Democratic National Committee Executive Director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon did last week while speaking at the National Stonewall Democrats biennial convention in D.C.

With three months remaining before the midterm elections, Dillon acknowledged that “an enthusiasm gap” exists between how Democratic voters feel this year compared to 2008. And she said that gap must close.

“We are going to hold the House and the Senate,” she said. “I’m very confident about that. But to do that, it’s just going to be incredibly hard. History is against us in this election.”

Also against Dillon’s efforts to rally LGBT voters are increasingly intense criticisms that President Obama and congressional leaders aren’t doing enough to enact promised changes, such as repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Dillon recognized that the “pace of change isn’t always fast enough” for LGBT people, but said the DNC is creating new and more substantive ways to engage potential donors and volunteers.

“We want to make sure that the programs we’re building on moving forward aren’t just programs that we’re sitting in D.C. saying, ‘Oh, I think it would be great if we had ruffly stickers with rainbows on them,’ but that we are really building out a substantive program,” she said.

Dillon also said the DNC is developing communications — including material for the DNC website as part of the Your Voice Matters effort — to demonstrate in a clearer way the Obama administration’s broader accomplishments.

But discontent among many LGBT voters persists. And a continuing effort LGBT bloggers launched last year, called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give,” urges LGBT people to withhold donations from the Democratic Party until more pro-LGBT bills are passed.

Leading the DNC boycott is John Aravosis, editor of, who’s asking readers to sign a pledge saying they will only contribute money to the Democratic Party after President Obama signs ENDA into law, and signs repeals of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Aravosis said at the start of this year that he didn’t feel inclined to whip the effort because signs had emerged that Congress would pass “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and ENDA. The situation changed, though, as the year progressed.

“ENDA is now nowhere to be seen and no one thinks it’s passing both houses by the election — even though we were promised,” he said. “On ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the legislation being discussed isn’t full repeal. It isn’t the repeal at all, even though it’s being sold that way. It’s not even clear if the legislation is going to pass anyway at this point.”

Aravosis dismissed the notion that outreach from the Democratic National Committee could be any substitute for the advancement of these issues.

“It’s a very 1990s strategy from the DNC,” he said. “They think showing face to the gay community — simply showing up at our events is going to buy our voters and buy our money because we should be so honored that they would deign to visit us.”

Aravosis estimated about 10,000 readers of have pledged to withhold donations to the Democratic Party as part of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give” initiative.

“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Give’ was, I think, part of a larger effort of the gay Netroots and, I would say, the community in general showing their ire at the Democrats,” Aravosis said. “I think it did change things for a while, but I think now the Democrats have backed off yet again.”

Dillon told the Blade that she hopes the DNC’s engagement with LGBT people will convince those who haven’t been satisfied to maintain their support.

“Of course, we’d like to see everyone feel like they can contribute to the party and feel good about that,” she said. “We obviously hope that people see us as a party that’s growing and building our commitment and our connection to the LGBT community, and that this is a place where people feel like their money will be well spent.”

‘We’re going to have disappointments’

Despite some disappointment, many LGBT Democrats who attended the Stonewall convention said they remain committed to the Democratic Party.

Rick Stafford, a veteran gay activist from Minnesota and chair of the Democratic Party’s LGBT caucus, said the Democratic Party is worth supporting because of the dramatic strides it’s taken in support of LGBT rights during the last decades.

“I can remember not more than 25 years ago, the Democratic Party and their leadership officials basically said to the LGBT community, ‘Go away,’” Stafford said. “We were held up as the poster child for the special interests. And in 25 years, if you told me back then that the issue that we would be fighting on disappointment was marriage equality, I would have told you [that] you were nuts.”

Stafford said LGBT critics of the Democratic Party should take care with the tone of their discussion because disagreement and discontent among Democrats led to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.

“We’re going to have disappointments, and not all Democratic elected officials are going to be supportive,” Stafford said. “But I think the leadership of Obama, Pelosi and even Harry Reid will be light years [ahead of] seeing Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner setting the agenda for our country.”

Jerame Davis, who’s gay and co-owner of the Indiana-based LGBT website Bilerico Project, also expressed discontent about the amount of progress the party has made recently on LGBT issues.

“The one thing that has concerned me has been President Obama said he was going to be a ‘fierce advocate’ for our issues, and I’ve had trouble seeing where the advocacy was coming along, let alone the fierceness,” Davis said.

Still, Davis said the alternative to Democrats running the legislative branch of the federal government would be “far, far worse.”

“The idea of turning either of those [chambers] over to the Republicans scares me far worse than trying to continue to push our friends to be more supportive and to advocate harder for our issues,” Davis said.

Also urging continued support for Democrats was Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker who spoke at the convention. He told the Blade that people who were in doubt over supporting the Democratic Party should look closely at Democratic candidates and their Republican opponents.

“The Democratic Party is the only party that stands for equality,” he said. “I think it’s important that voters weigh where both candidates are on issues like marriage equality, ENDA — and 99 times out of 100, you’ll come out in favor of the Democrat.”

Polis has been active in raising funds not only for his own his re-election, but for other Democratic candidates. He’s set up two joint fundraising committees — the Jared Polis Majority Fund and the Jared Polis Victory Fund — that have raised substantial funds for Democrats seeking election.

The Jared Polis Majority Fund has raised $26,000 over the course of this Congress, while the Jared Polis Victory Fund has raised $150,000, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Notable donations from the Jared Polis Majority Fund in the second quarter of this year included $1,500 to David Cicilline, the gay mayor of Providence, R.I. who’s running for Congress, and $1,500 to Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), who last year replaced Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) upon her appointment to the U.S. Senate. The Jared Polis Victory Fund in the second quarter donated $4,000 to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who’s seeking to retain his U.S. Senate seat.

“We’ve been very active in helping to build a pro-equality majority in the House and I’ve focused a lot of national fundraising in helping to achieve that,” Polis said.

The notion that LGBT voters should directly support candidates they see as supportive versus supporting the Democratic Party infrastructure is a common view among many advocates.

Aravosis said the best donation tactic that LGBT people can use as the November election approaches is to support candidates “who are proven to be pro-gay and proven to have come through for us.”

“That means support Democrats who actually have fought for us, or, [get behind] those Republicans who have fought for us, although I’m not convinced there’s too many,” he said.

Davis said this approach is the best way to ensure that a majority in Congress supportive of LGBT rights is in place.

“So, the way I see it is this: find a good friend that you think is going to advocate for our issues well, and that’s where you should put your money,” Davis said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • If we dems and supporters of equality dont get off our ass re politics, America will be the next Nazi Germany, and gays will be the new Jews.

    Its that bad, if you listen to the crazies out there of t he repub and tea party people. Some even calling for armed revolution.

    Don’t kid yourself – Germany was the most cultured nation in Europe in the 1920s. But the economic collapse of the first great republican depression that resulted in paying 30000 DM to mail a letter, mixed with Hitlers hatred of the Jews, thanks to his catholic upbringing, gave us nazi-ism,a nd the rest is history.

    Here the repubs are playing the old Shock and Awe campaign politics. Whether the dems have really delivered or not, its not a question of which party wins. Its a question of whether we become a new holy roman empire or nazi party. Where no one will be safe, the constitution will be replaced with a hate filled bible, and the super-rich will employ us all as serfs of old.

    And let the ones with out jobs starve on the streets, and die in front of the hospitals.

    Off you asses, pls………..

  • I think it’s important to note that the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Give” donation boycott is not a boycott of the Democratic Party — it’s a very specifically focused boycott: it’s aimed at the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, and the Obama campaign. AmericaBlog readers and supporters actively donate and raise funds (through ActBlue and other outlets) for Democratic candidates in many other races. It’s not a Democratic Party boycott — it’s a boycott of the DNC and other outlets directly controlled by President Obama until the President takes effective action to get the repeals of DADT and DOMA and the passage of ENDA actually done. When he sends David Axelrod out the day after the Prop. 8 decision to reiterate his opposition to marriage equality, President Obama shamefully supports separate and so-called equal.

  • “the pace of change isn’t always fast enough”. That’s her diagnosis. She is exhibit A in why the dems are totally clueless and going to blow it. What change is she talking about? Obama has been Bush III so far. There has to actually BE some change first before you can measure a pace of change.

  • The DNC knows all too well that as GLBT American’s we have nowhere to go. It’s either vote for the party that tolerates us because they want our money or vote the party that actively tries to destroy us. These are the options which is really sad.

  • Au contraire, you have a choice. Give support and vote to those who support full rights in the Congress. Do not give to Democrats who betray us and the DNC leads the list.
    The day that GAY INC does not infer that our votes and money are always reliable regardless of their betrayals, is when they will listen to us. Hardball is the only sport in town.

  • I just speak for me; but I can tell you this life long democrat couldn’t care less what happens to the national democratic party. As for Obama, I will be happy to see him out of office. I am fed up with them.

  • I guess you all are awaiting Hillary “I belive Marriage is between a Man and a Woman” Clinton to rescue us from the evils of Obama and The Dems????

    In Fact “Obama’s relationship with our community has been rocky since his election.”

    Further more, it’s been rocky since the kids voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in the primaries. 60% of LGBT’s voted for Clinton during the primary. Not only did they vote for Clinton, they supported her long after it was clear she had lost. So when she finally gave in, and the two campaigns were supposed to merge. It was too late. The entire structure of the campaign was locked in stone. Further, 30% of LGBT voted for McCain. So it hasn’t been a love affair. See the Gay Blogs and all the Anti-obama everything they post.

    And you know he knows that.

    Now I myself will admit. He has for sure when it comes to marriage equality, and D.A.D.T has beebn wishy-washy. But there has been some things done to his credit for this community.

    However, Obama was never the gay community’s first choice. He would NOT be in office had it been up to majority of the Gays to decide. Clinton would be. Who also doesn’t feel we should be married,or call it marriage and her wonderful husband who signed the 2 death certificates to ever face this community D.A.DT and D.O.M.A. But you all can so forgive her…Things that make you go HMMMMM?

    In the end, he was simply less frightening than McCain/Palin… and he probably still is.
    Remember, Palin tried but failed to ban gay-related books from the Wasilla public library and fired the librarian who opposed her.

    A book-burning, Rapture-ready birth certificate conspiracy nut, one stoking the white surpremist and religious extremist violence we see today, drove the gays in droves to vote for Obama…

    …not his stand on same-sex marriage.

    So, you are saying that gays are going to vote republican, Tea Party, or Libertarian, or Green in 2012?
    Vote out someone who somewhat supports your position in favor of a party that wants gays DEAD (Rethugs)….oh, so smart a political move!

    But hey “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give”

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