October 27, 2011 | by Robert Turner
Homophobia is a problem for both parties

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 robert.turner@dclogcabin.org.

5 Comments
  • It’s sad when a politician would do and say anything to get re-elected. This tactic by Senator Howell is outrageous. Doing this promotes homophobia and it hurts all of us. When I read the Blade article and saw that she even went to a conservative state senator to tell him that Mr. Forrest had a same-sex partner, I was shocked. Why would she do that? That comment, combined with the audio tape, makes it clear that the gay-baiting was real. I cannot ignore this, and cannot understand why other newspapers, other than the Richmond Times have not covered this story.

  • AnnDe in Virginia

    @Judy Barton: “This tactic by Senator Howell is outrageous.” BUT IT IS NOT HOWELL’S TACTIC. The audio tape recorded upset ramblings of an inebriated individual (Imarti) who is also being drawn to say things. Imarti is NOT with the Howell campaign staff. She may have done her own gay-baiting somewhere, and she IS a Democrat, but individuals are entitled to their opinions — and she was taped at her own home at a party in a conversation.

    Janet Howell talks with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to get things done in the Senate. The earlier Blade article relates Sen. Obenshain’s recollection of a conversation with Sen. Howell; it is quite unlike the narrow reference by Barton. So what? They talk.

    BTW, if Janet ticked off attributes to Obenshain, including a routine “partner” reference, so what? That could mean a gay or heterosexual partner, right? I.e., not single. My husband and I were partners for 16 years before we got married to appease some family members. Local papers even referred to us as partners sometimes. People tend to hear what fits their mindsets.

    I have known Howell for over 20 years and she would never “promote homophobia” in her campaign– and would not permit others to do so. That is ridiculous. It simply is not part of her.
    Senator Howell is fair, open-minded, and has championed a number of issues important to the LGBTQ community as well as serving admirably for the WHOLE community she represents.

    Ann H. Csonka, Herndon

  • AnnDe in Virginia

    I don’t know if there is a word-limit. Guess I will find out.

    Mr. Turner:
    1. I agree with you 100% that “Homophobia is a bipartisan problem” and that “bigotry toward gay people is unacceptable”. It takes time.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly with your position that gay activists and the media “should not stay silent” in the face of bigotry [and insult]. I will carry that a step further and assert that neither should a reasonable Virginia Democrat stay silent in the face of a Log Cabin leader apparently practicing “the politics of slander” against an honorable, effective, and NOT bigoted incumbent in the office that the candidate you support is challenging.

    3. I have always respected the Log Cabin Republicans. Today, I’m questioning that because of the extremely strident accusative tone that you seem to take – but you are only one, and you are upset, so I should let it go. When people get upset they often carry things a bit far, like the individual who stated HER PERSONAL position and was also upset (and inebriated).

    4. DO YOU KNOW JANET HOWELL? Probably not, since you don’t travel in Democratic circles and obviously no doubt have friends in the Virginia Governor’s office and current administration. You need to remember that some of those fellow-Republican folks are extremely zealous in their beliefs and have all kinds of agendas (including underlying convictions about homosexuals). It’s just the way humans are.

    5. I KNOW SENATOR HOWELL, and have for years. I wrote a note outlining some of her attributes after the first commenter at the end of this article. PLEASE read those comments. Your accusations simply DO NOT FIT Janet Howell.

    6. You claim that many folks and the WaPo are enabling bigotry by not jumping all over Senator Howell – for actions that I am highly skeptical that she committed.
    Do you have further evidence than that reported in the Oct. 14 Blade?

    Why are the entities you specified not screaming about the horrible totally unacceptable behavior of Janet Howell’s campaign? PERHAPS BECAUSE THEY KNOW HER — how deeply she cares about civil rights and how she has served well in the interests of ALL OF US, how she runs clean campaigns, and how she has struggled to ensure fairness to all in her Senate leadership roles–including championing issues of importance to the LGBTQ community. (IMHO it is an uphill battle in a sadly biased Commonwealth that is too entrenched in old ideas and long-outdated behaviors.)

    7. You say “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.” You contend that Janet Howell is doing all these dastardly deeds – but it could be only the individual that Forrest’s campaign manager talked with (and secretly recorded) … and probably a few other individuals. You know darn well, if you do your homework, that Imarti is NOT part of the Howell campaign. Yet you smear Howell personally – does that represent the style of your candidate for Senate in district 32? I hope not because it is way too careless and crucifies all not entirely in tune with you.
    Y’know, my grandmother taught me that one of the most important things to live by is the GOLDEN RULE. Perhaps you need to reflect on that instead of going into “auto-defensive mode” and jumping way ahead of the facts at hand. Humans have not progressed far beyond the tribal mentality in our religious, political, or community relationships. Sad. But I have hope that we can all do better.

    8. Not incidentally, I want you to know that we have a gay son, a gay grandson, and many friends in “your” community. We know the extra burdens of just trying to be who you are. We also know that we are all in this life on this Earth together and need to stop abusing everyone and everything around us and learn to live in peace.
    I hope you have read this far, if you are not so upset that you have no patience with another’s views.

    If you are nearly as righteous as you feel you are, it might be good to acknowledge that you are shooting down the wrong person by attacking Janet Howell. SHE IS ON YOUR SIDE!

    When my husband and I have time to collaborate later in the day, we may comment further to the Blade. I will be sure to send you a copy.
    Ann H. Csonka, Herndon
    (We were in Janet Howell’s District until redistricting changed that this election cycle)

  • Ann: You’re an apologist for Howell. Not very becoming. The words on the tape speak for themselves. Excellent article, Robert Turner.

  • AnnDe in Virginia

    I can reasonably assume that you intend the term “apologist” in a pejorative or negative sense. However, the actual definition of “apologist” is simply a person who argues to defend or justify . . .” YOU BET! Janet Howell works effectively and consistently to represent a clear majority of those in her district. Therefore, I defend her effort that is, in my opinion, in the public interest.

    Sure, the words on the tape “speak for themselves”. They reflect an apparently angry, confused, and inconsistent individual opinion–further garbled and questionable due to the circumstances of the recorder’s leading questions to an intoxicated volunteer who is NOT part of the Howell campaign.

    My opinion is shaped by:
    (1) years of observing Sen. Howell’s performance and positions on issues
    (2) evaluation of her work, which, for the most part, aligns with my positions and priorities
    (3) recognition of the many facets of the context in which she works in Richmond

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