October 28, 2010 | by Kevin Naff
Democrats earned their drubbing

Two years after Barack Obama won the White House and Democrats took commanding majorities in Congress, it’s back-to-Earth time for LGBT Democrats.

It’s hard to keep track of all the promises Democrats made to LGBT voters just two years ago, but they included quite a laundry list of legislative priorities, administrative policy changes and gay-friendly appointments.

To be sure, Obama’s administration has made progress on LGBT issues, from expanding the federal hate crimes law to appointing a record number of openly LGBT officials. The Associated Press — in a story picked up around the country this week — reported that Obama has made more than 150 LGBT appointments. But even that achievement falls short of expectations set back in 2008.

Chuck Wolfe, president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, was part of a group of LGBT leaders that met with the Obama transition team in December 2008. He told the Blade at the time that Obama’s team said gay activists “would be very happy with the results of the appointments.”

“Our point is we will be happy if there is a cabinet-level appointment,” Wolfe said. “Anything less than a cabinet-level appointment would demonstrate that they did not hear us.”

Despite the many LGBT appointees, including John Berry at OPM, Obama has not named an openly LGBT person to a cabinet-level position.

The problem with campaigning on big change is that when you fail to deliver, as Obama has on multiple fronts, voters aren’t going to show up next time. Next week’s elections will bring the country a new House of Representatives headed not by a San Francisco Democrat, but by Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner, who last week received a zero percent pro-LGBT rating from the Human Rights Campaign. Boehner has consistently voted against LGBT interests and refused to co-sponsor any legislation to benefit gay Americans.

If the Democrats manage to hold the Senate — not a foregone conclusion according to the latest polls — it will likely include more lawmakers hostile to gay rights, including at least a couple of Tea Party-backed candidates. Make no mistake that the Tea Party’s reluctance to talk social issues is not an indication of moderation. It just means they know that anti-gay attacks turn off independent voters during campaign season. But as soon as they’re elected, you can bet on the return of a federal marriage amendment and the inevitable attacks on D.C.’s same-sex marriage law.

Given the history of midterm elections being hostile to the party in power, we knew Obama and the Democrats had just two years to deliver on some key LGBT initiatives, most notably repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t’ Tell” and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But hopes were far higher than just those two issues. In September 2009, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Just one year ago, Nadler boldly declared, “… we can and we will dump DOMA once and for all.” Obama campaigned on supporting a full repeal of DOMA, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. One year later, the bill is nowhere and repealing DOMA has vanished from the radar.

As gay Rep. Barney Frank said in an interview with the Blade last year, “I think getting ENDA, a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and full domestic partner benefits for federal employees will take up all of what we can do and maybe more in this Congress.” Boy was he right. This Congress has so far failed to deliver on any of those promises.

Even if this lame Congress manages to repeal “Don’t Ask” in the lame duck session — again, not a foregone conclusion given Sen. John McCain’s promise to filibuster it — the damage to this administration’s relationship with LGBT voters is done. In typically sloppy Democratic fashion, the party has managed to alienate its most ardent supporters — gays — by half-stepping on repeal and appealing a federal judge’s ruling that the military’s gay ban is unconstitutional.  Leave it to the Democrats to piss off a constituency that has nowhere else to go. As bad as the Democrats have been in overpromising and under-delivering, the Republicans are far worse. After next week, LGBT rights advocates return to playing defense on the Hill after failing to capitalize on the incredible and short-lived opportunities of 2009 and 2010.

The Democrats have earned the drubbing they are about to receive next week. Maybe losing the House will teach the party to stay loyal to its base and to fulfill promises made during a campaign. If not, there will likely be a viable alternative for LGBT voters in 2012, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg flirts with the idea of running an independent campaign for the White House.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

11 Comments
  • Yes, we will punish the dems for moving us forward but not as far and fast as we want, by letting the republicans come in and punish us for being gay. No democrat will make our rights their first priority as long as anti-gay republicans can still get elected. When will we realize a disappointing friend is better than a deadly enemy.

    • And when will people like you stop Uncle Tomming a party that continues to support an anti-gay agenda. People are dying while you and your ilk wring your hands and pussyfoot around the real issue. The real issue is that your heros in the party are just as committed to regressive policy as most republicans and until we start letting them know that they can’t win elections without our money or our votes things wont change.

      • Look at who introduces pro-gay legislation and who votes for it, and who votes against us. As long as you allow those who tell us they will harm us to get elected, they will continue to harm us. As the DADT vote proved, every single republican voted for prejudice and discrimination. And you call me the Uncle Tom!

  • If Americans are stupid enough to put the same people back in power who destroyed our economy, then they deserve what they get. They are promising to make Obama a one-term president their priority. We could end up with a Republican President and Congress again by 2012 and they will be more virulently anti-gay than the Bush administration. Again, if people are so stupid to vote these idiots back in, I’m moving to Canada and people here can wallow in this mess. At that point, I’m through. We went through this exact same scenario with Clinton…twice is enough.

  • Many — not all — Republicans are far more inclusive toward gays than before. After all, the lead lawyer in overturning the Proposition 8 California ban on same-sex marriage is a well known right-winger. Several editorial pieces have been written by major publications stating the changing face and nature of the GOP. Part of those new faces are an increasing number of Gay people. In Florida we have two Gay GOP groups that sponsor receptions, “phone bank nights”, and media events for a variety of GOP candidates. This is probably going on in every metropolitan area in the US. The GOP — and the conservative movement — is simply more Gay than it was 10 years ago.

  • Ditto what Michael said. FU bigoted Americans. I only have to put up with your crap for 7 more years, then retire to B.C.

  • For the life of me I don’t understand this “cry me a river” perspective of gays. We fell for “I feel your pain” Clinton.” After that, I was much more reticent to drink the Obama Kool-Aid. Nevertheless, I voted for him due to no option. BUT, right out of the shoot, Obama selects Rev. Rick Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation and DARES to lecture us on inclusion! Then he not only continues but expands Bush’s White House faith-based initiative program providing over $250-million to organizations that are anti-gay and use the law NOT to hire us. And surprise, surprise – he has done noting on DADT, DOMA, ENDA. He doesn’t get credit for hate crime; he didn’t do it. Our fierce (fucking) advocate got votes and money for us and moved on. It is very obvious that GLBT civil rights will not be won through a legislative agenda, but through the courts. Shame on Obama and double shame on us for believing him – again. He’s just like Clinton; far better to be his enemy than his friend.

  • While many in our community and our allies are working overtime trying to minimize the predicted Republican/Tea Party landslide why must you already gloat about how Democrats deserve to lose and be taught a lesson ? Do you really believe widespread victories for the haters and reactionaries will make things better for us ? There are many close races being contested across this nation, including in our own area. My own Congressman Gerry Connolly is in a very tight race against an extreme right wing opponent. It will NOT make any useful point or move LGBT progress forward if Connolly is defeated. A few votes either way could be the difference. An editorial like yours could well discourage / dishearten some from even bothering to vote. Why not instead point out the differences between the parties and the consequences of a Democratic loss ? Why not seek to encourage folks to go to the polls when they can truly make a difference ? A big part of the Democrat’s failure to accomplish more in the last 2 years has been the absolute obstructionism of Republicans who just said “no” to every initiative. I do not believe a Republican victory will be in any way a good thing for LGBT folks or for our nation. Rather as Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman put it earlier this week we should be “very afraid” of such a prospect.

  • True enough, the Dems really have squandered many opportunities to follow through with their promises to our community, and many of them, particularly the socially conversative & Blue Dog Dems, don’t deserve our support. Having said this however, I can’t stomach the idea of voting for any of the gay bashing tea partier Republicans who are entirely against us. I have thus far refused to contribute to any Dems who are not supportive of the LGBT community or openly gay themselves, and I likewise refuse to do volunteer work for the Dems until they act on their promises, but I will vote Democrat this Tuesday to keep the Anti-Gay Republican jackels from taking power. As for Obama, I’ll be watching to see if New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg jumps in as an independent to run for President, because if he does, he has my support.

  • One of the saddest consequences if we lose the Senate is the ability to approve gay-friendly Supreme Court nominees. Without a super majority it will be almost impossible to confirm another Elena Kagan. Imagine a court without a Ginsberg or Kennedy. The only practicable way left to get rid of DADT or establish marriage rights is through favorable rulings by the Court. A conservative Senate will never stand up for our rights, and the soon-to-be lame duck President has neither the will nor the political capital to influence change.

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