At a book salon hosted by Donald Hitchcock and Paul Yandura, Juan Ahonen-Jover, Ph.D., discussed his book, “The Gay Agenda 2012: All Out.” Juan has written an interesting book with some theories that will gain the support of many activists while not necessarily finding favor with the leaders of the more prominent LGBT organizations.
Juan talked about his ideas with regard to where the LGBT community needs to go from here and then opened the floor to a broader discussion. There were about 30 or so LGBT advocates in the room and one of the more interesting issues that arose was whether or not the LGBT community should be taking what some referred to as “dirty money” for marriage equality campaigns. It was an interesting discussion and as is often the case with such a touchy issue people’s opinions were all over the map.
The people who used the term “dirty money” were talking about money and support that comes from individuals like Ken Mehlman, Ted Olson (who coached Paul Ryan in his debate prep) and Paul Singer. There is a strong difference of opinion over whether or not to take money and support from them. The “them” refers to those who support marriage equality but who also support candidates pledged to prevent marriage equality from happening and want to turn back any movement on LGBT civil and human rights. Many in the room felt that while they appreciated the support, gay organizations should not take money directly from these individuals and organizations. There were strong feelings that there is too much hypocrisy making it impossible in good conscience to accept this money.
Although I agree that LGBT organizations shouldn’t take the money, there is no reason that we would turn our backs on or try to stop anyone who wants to donate to or support marriage equality. We need all the support we can get and clearly all the money we can get to fight for our civil rights. There are ways for this money to come into campaigns other than through LGBT organizations and hedge-fund manager and billionaire Paul Singer has found a good one. In a June 2012 article by Frank Bruni in the New York Times, Singer says he provided $1 million to start a new “Super PAC” with several Republican compatriots. Named American Unity PAC, its sole mission is to encourage Republican candidates to support same-sex marriage, in part by helping them to feel financially shielded from any blowback from well-funded groups that oppose it.
He told Bruni that he’s confident that in congressional races, which would most likely be the Super PAC’s initial focus, there are more than a few Republicans “who could be on the verge of support” or are “harboring and hiding their views.” “And this kind of effort could be catalytic in generating some more movement,” he said.
This is also the way to have those like Singer, who has a gay son, pour money into marriage equality campaigns and influence their outcome in a positive way. This issue reminds me of what many organizations, particularly those in the area of education and children’s issues, faced when they gave up tobacco money. People wanted to find a way for tobacco companies to contribute to good works in other ways.
Such a Super PAC allows someone like Mehlman, who came out as gay in 2010, but has yet to separate himself totally from all Republican candidates who want to keep him a second-class citizen, to work on the issues he currently feels comfortable with like marriage. Mehlman has said, “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” Mehlman has also said, “As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved. I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry.” What I have never heard Mehlman say or apparently come to grips with is that he came up with those campaigns and led them. But we can still thank Mehlman for what he is willing to do today.
While these individuals shouldn’t become icons within the LGBT community, it is important to encourage everyone who wants to support the forward movement of civil and human rights for the LGBT community to participate in the fight. There are clearly ways to do that on separate paths for those who are not yet ready to see this fight as the overriding mission that it must be for LGBT organizations.