In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned hard for gay votes and made promises to end discrimination. He backslid. The anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act passed both houses of Congress with lopsided, bipartisan majorities and was signed into law by none other than President Clinton.
Homophobia is a bipartisan problem and therefore requires a bipartisan solution. Namely, that bigotry toward gay people is unacceptable and that we are equal to straight people both legally and morally. It’s an imperfect analogy, but just as racists are repudiated, so too should homophobes be ostracized — wherever they arise, in whatever party.
We obviously aren’t there yet. Democrats have improved more than Republicans have, but they’re in danger of backsliding. Consider a state Senate race in Virginia pitting a Democratic incumbent, Janet Howell, against a gay Republican, Patrick Forrest. It’s a close race between the long time legislator and a first-time campaigner who has knocked on 30,000 doors.
Howell has a decent pro-gay rights record. But a Democratic volunteer was caught on tape claiming that Forrest will push a “homosexual agenda in our children’s schools.” As a member of the Fairfax County Textbook Selection Committee, Forrest has said that there’s “too much Marx” in textbooks. That might be an agenda — but a homosexual one? It’s an egregious misrepresentation of his views, particularly since Forrest isn’t running as a gay Republican but rather as someone who cares about traffic congested Northern Virginia and public transit and the budget and who happens to be gay.
More seriously, without defining “homosexual agenda,” Howell’s supporter who made the remarks invites projection: She could mean anything from rainbow flags to pedophilia. She has attempted a smear that affects not just Forrest but all gay men. Will she get away with it? Some people, but not enough, are criticizing Howell’s campaign.
The Washington Blade has reported this incident, Log Cabin Republicans has fired off press releases, and the Victory Fund has sent out e-mails on Forrest’s behalf. Good as these groups are, they aren’t enough. It’s troubling that the Human Rights Campaign and Stonewall Democrats have been silent; it’s worse that the Virginia Partisans (Northern Virginia’s equivalent to Gertrude Stein) have endorsed Howell. The gay groups seem to have an unholy alliance with mainstream media outlets like The Washington Post that haven’t deigned to cover this. Gay people cannot tell a newspaper to cover a bigot, but it ought to be news when a major newspaper covers up bigotry.
Yet when major gay rights organizations stay silent, something else might be at work. It is no secret that Democrats are generally friendlier than Republicans toward gays. But that does not mean that Democrats always are better friends, nor does it mean that they are always in the right.
In politics, if something works, other people (from both sides) will keep doing it. Take, for example, negative advertising. Despite many voters’ complaints about it, it keeps being used because it works. In this state Senate race, a Democrat has stooped to gay baiting to win a race; if it works, we’ll surely see more anti-gay smears used against both Republicans and Democrats.
Forrest is running this race to win, being honest about who he is, proudly running as a Log Cabin Republican with the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. He has based his campaign not on who he is but on issues: fiscal conservatism, transportation policy and improving the 32nd District of Virginia. Now that he is a threat, Democrats want to punish him for it. Being criticized for positions is what politics and the First Amendment are all about; we wouldn’t have it any other way. But Howell has allegedly turned to smears and innuendo and everything ugly about politics. Many qualified gay people don’t run for office precisely because of the politics of slander, which Howell is accused of practicing and which the Virginia Partisans, the Washington Post and others are enabling.
If gay activists and the liberal media won’t stand up for a gay Republican against homophobic politics, then Log Cabin Republicans will. We cannot let the politics of personal destruction prevail. Patrick Forrest deserves our support.
We hope that we aren’t in danger of engendering more legalized bigotry like DOMA. But when Democrats use anti-gay slurs, we’re backsliding. It’s true enough that many straight people have a homophobia problem, but if gay people turn a blind eye to bigots, we deserve their contempt.
Robert Turner is president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.