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5 takeaways from Election Day

Obama’s marriage support was a good political move and other observations

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HRC, Human Rights Campaign, election 2012, Washington Blade, gay news
election 2012, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the community celebrated President Obama’s reelection at the Human Rights Campaign election watch party at Eatonville on 14th Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hailed as a watershed moment for the LGBT movement, Election Day yielded several milestones that political observers say will have a profound impact on the advancement of LGBT rights and marriage equality going forward.

Here are five takeaways from an evening that saw wins for marriage equality at the ballot and the election for the first time of an openly gay U.S. Senate candidate — not to mention the re-election of a U.S. president who endorsed marriage equality.

1. The sky’s the limit for gay candidates seeking political office

Lesbian U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin made history when she became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate in a highly contested race against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. She’ll be part of a record number of as many as seven openly gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates elected to Congress and 121 candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund elected to various offices throughout the country.

Baldwin’s sexual orientation was virtually a non-issue during the campaign. The only time it came up was when Brian Nemoir, a Thompson campaign official, circulated a video of her dancing at a gay Pride festival and told media outlets, “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy.” The incident resulted in negative press for Thompson, who apologized for his aide’s action.

The glass ceiling broken by Baldwin could be a hopeful sign for other LGBT officials seeking office — such as lesbian New York City Council Chair Christine Quinn, who’s likely to run for mayor of the nation’s largest city in 2013 — that sexual orientation needn’t be a factor even when pursuing the highest offices in the nation.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at the City University of New York, said Baldwin’s election “was a remarkable achievement” as was the the election of additional openly gay people to the House.

“An LGBT candidate no longer has to worry about facing his or her sexual orientation in terms of it being an impediment in running for public office,” Pinello said. “Tammy Baldwin most clearly demonstrates that, her being elected the first openly gay or lesbian senator.”

Some barriers have yet to fall. Gay Republican Richard Tisei failed in his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Rep. John Tierney from a House seat in Massachusetts, which means the LGBT contingent in Congress will be entirely Democratic and an openly gay non-incumbent Republican has yet to win election to Congress. No transgender candidate has won election to Congress, although Stacie Laughton, a Democrat, was elected in New Hampshire as the first openly transgender person to a state legislature in the country.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, noted that 40 state legislatures will now have LGBT representation and said the priority for his organization over the next 10 years is to elect an openly LGBT person to each state throughout the country.

“That matters greatly at the state level; it matters greatly at the municipal level,” Dison said. “There are some states out there where there’s one out elected official, and that’s kind of a very tenuous position, and we want to make sure that we are building capacity — and that’s states that people don’t talk about very much: the Nebraskas and Kansas.”

2. Obama’s support of marriage equality was a good political move

At the time President Obama completed his 19-month “evolution” in May and announced his personal support for marriage rights for gay couples, many political observers feared a backlash against him at the polls.

Many predicted — as it turns out, correctly — that states once considered battlegrounds —Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana — would fall in the Republican column because of their large evangelical populations. Whether Obama would be able to make the difference in the Electoral College to reach 270 votes was unclear.

But the result was positive — most initially in terms of financing for the Obama campaign. According to an analysis from National Public Radio, donations to Obama nearly tripled in the immediate period after the announcement. The campaign took in nearly $9 million over three days, compared to $3.4 million in the three previous days. The Washington Blade reported anecdotally that while many major donors had already maxed out their contributions, Obama’s new support for marriage equality resulted in his supporters making more small donations to the campaign.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York advocate who pushed Obama to support same-sex marriage, said coming out for marriage equality helped Obama not only in terms of donations before the election, but energized LGBT voters to come to the polls.

“I think it excited Democrats and young voters and gay and lesbian voters,” Socarides said. “His margin of victory in the popular vote was less than his vote among gays and lesbians, so I think gays and lesbians turned out for him.”

Socarides pointed to exit polling showing gay voters made up 5 percent of the electorate and 77 percent of them voted for Obama — an increase from the 2008 election — as evidence the gay vote is significant and helped Obama claim victory.

The youth vote was also significant in the election. According to the early National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research, Obama won 60 percent of the youth vote, compared to 36 percent for Romney. Voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of the electorate, which is an increase of one percentage point from 2008.

Pinello said Obama’s support for marriage equality helped drive to the polls younger voters, who are generally more supportive of same-sex marriage.

“The Obama campaign used marriage equality as a means to target younger voters to turn out in greater numbers as has been the case in the past,” Pinello said. “I think that was probably fairly wise of the Obama campaign. I think they succeeded in strengthening and increasing the size of their base in doing so.”

3. LGBT support alone won’t save Republicans in moderate districts

Despite the apparent support that Obama won as a result of coming out for marriage equality, Republicans in office who were supportive of LGBT issues didn’t fare as well in the 2012 election.

In Massachusetts, Tisei was notable among those Republicans. Also of note is freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, who lost to gay Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney; Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the Pentagon report came out in favor of open service; and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who during her five terms in Congress voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of ENDA and hate crimes legislation. U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon in Connecticut was also defeated; she supported Defense of Marriage Act repeal.

These Republicans were supported by gay GOP groups. The American Unity PAC, which was working to support pro-LGBT Republicans, notably spent a total of $420,000 in advertising to protect Bono Mack; $260,000 in Connecticut for McMahon; $540,000 in Biggert’s campaign; $530,000 in the Tisei race and $260,000 in ad buys on behalf of Hayworth. But each of these investments ended in losses.

Jeff Cook, senior adviser to the American Unity PAC, blamed the losses on the general poor showing by the Republican Party during the 2012 election and said the party as a whole needs to adapt to survive.

“It was a tough night for Republicans in most of the country,” Cook added. “The impact was particularly felt in moderate, swing districts where our party’s brand too often has limited our candidates’ appeal. It’s increasingly clear that there is a need to modernize the Republican Party, not only to win full inclusion for gay and lesbian Americans, but to ensure that the GOP can compete and win in the 21st century.”

Cook noted that Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), pro-LGBT Republicans who were also recipients of funds from the American Unity PAC, won re-election. These candidates weren’t in as highly contested races.

4. The national trend in favor of marriage equality is real

Four states yielded good news for supporters of same-sex marriage on Tuesday night: Maine approved a voter-initiated referendum legalizing same-sex marriage; voters in Maryland and Washington upheld same-sex marriage laws passed by the legislatures put up for referenda; and Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have restricted marriage to one man, one woman.

The wins were a remarkable turnaround after loses in years past, breaking a losing streak in 32 states where same-sex marriage lost at the ballot. Moreover, the wins also validate national polls showing a gradual rise in support for same-sex marriage, which has led to a bare majority supporting marriage rights for gay couples.

Lanae Erickson, a lesbian and director of social policy and politics for the moderate group Third Way, said the election demonstrated marriage equality is coming into the mainstream after having been a hot-button issue for many years.

“I think this election showed that marriage and LGBT issues are no longer going to be a divisive social issue in the way they have been in the past,” Erickson said. “It definitely shows that the losing season that we had is relegated to history and now we’re in a new season where we can win frequently if not most of the time, especially on marriage.”

The victories have spurred talk about which states will be next to legalize same-sex marriage as Illinois and Minnesota are in position to take action in 2013. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has said he would favor allowing a referendum on same-sex marriage, but LGBT advocates in the state have dismissed that option.

Pinello warned that the marriage equality side won by a slim margin in these states — in Washington State, for example, the marriage law was approved by 52 percent as votes continued to trickle in — and said LGBT advocates shouldn’t attempt to place the issue on the ballot in a year other than a presidential election when the youth and progressive turnout isn’t high.

“If activists were to decide then to try it again in other states like Oregon, for example, in 2014, an off-year election, I think it might be a mistake because, again, the part of the population who are LGBT friendly tend not to turn out as much in off-year elections,” Pinello said.

5. The influence of anti-gay groups is waning

The Election Day results were a disaster for social conservative groups trying to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage and elect Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The day after the election, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown issued a statement saying the American public still favors marriage between one man, one woman, but his organization was up against “a huge financial advantage” from marriage equality supporters.

In an email message to supporters on Wednesday, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins dismissed the results at the ballot, saying, “And while homosexuals may be celebrating an end to our movement’s perfect record, they still have a long way to go to match the 32 states where Americans voted overwhelmingly to protect the union of a man and woman.”

Erickson said although NOM is a one-issue group and unlikely to change its tune even in the wake of its losses, social conservative groups may seek to veer away from demonizing LGBT people.

“I think a lot of the other social conservative groups will turn their attention toward other issues because they realize that the momentum on this one just is not in their favor,” Erickson said. “They’re pushing a lot, for example, to say, ‘Yeah, younger people are trending better on LGBT issues, but they’re more pro-life than their older counterparts and we can still get them on immigration and we can still get them on abortion.”

One question is whether heads will roll at these organizations as a result of their failures on Election Day. Will Brown and Perkins be forced to step down? The Huffington Post reported on Wednesday that a Republican operative said billionaire donors who contributed to the Republican Party are “livid” about the election results. Similar heat may be coming down on social conservative groups.

Pinello said conservative organizations will likely have more difficulty finding funds as donations dry up in the wake of their defeats.

“I think their momentum has been taken away; they’ve been deflated,” Pinello said. “They’re no longer guaranteed a win, so, donors, I think would be much more circumspect about whether this is the best place to put their money.”

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Congress

Raphael Warnock wins Ga. runoff

Democrats now control U.S. Senate by 51-49 margin

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(Public domain photo)

U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker Tuesday night in a run-off election.

In last month’s election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast, but fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid the runoff.

Warnock’s victory means Democrats gain the outright majority in the Senate, with 51 seats to the Republicans’ 49, freeing them from a power-sharing agreement for committee assignments and diminishing the power of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Political commentator and journalist Jacob Rubashkin, reflecting on Warnock’s victory noted on Twitter; “In 1934, no Democratic senators lost re-election. But since 1934, every president, Democrat and Republican, has seen at least one senator from their party lose re-election in every single midterm cycle. Biden becomes the first president since FDR not to lose a single senator.”

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Congress

Inside Marjorie Taylor Greene’s unprecedented feud with gay Hill staffer

Tim Hysom speaks publicly for first time since he became target of harassment by right-wing lawmaker

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Tim Hysom in front of the U.S. Capitol building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After more than 20 years in public service working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, Tim Hysom never imagined he would be staring down the barrel of an Ethics Committee probe into whether he had brought discredit upon the U.S. House of Representatives.

Equally inconceivable was the barrage of intimidating and hateful messages from strangers that have persisted for months, which included credible threats of violence that prompted the U.S. Capitol Police to monitor Hysom’s home for concern over his and his family’s safety.

A longtime public servant whose career has included high-profile positions in the congressional offices of Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), and Jake Auchincloss (Mass.), Hysom also spent five years at the Congressional Management Foundation working with Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate and served on the board of the House Chief of Staff Association, first as a vice president for Professional Development and later as president of the staff organization.

Now he is still trying to piece his life and career back together after the fallout from a conflict this summer with Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Part of that effort, Hysom told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview, is to go public after months of silence to tell the story of how the firebrand congresswoman, who is poised to become a member of Republican leadership in the House next year, launched an unprecedented attack on him with the goal, he claims, of forcing him out of Capitol Hill.

Congressional staff are rarely the subject of complaints filed to the House Ethics Committee. Nor are they often otherwise embroiled in controversies and political debates among members that attract public interest and news coverage.

The story of Greene’s conflict with Hysom breaks from that precedent, serving as, potentially, a harbinger of what may come when she is seated alongside Republican leadership in the next Congress.

It started with Greene’s transphobic sign

In February 2021, after Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) hung a transgender flag outside her door in the Longworth House Office Building, Greene, whose office was directly across the hallway, put up a sign that read: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE…Trust The Science!”

When a series of stickers were placed on Greene’s signs over the course of several weeks earlier this year, she referred the matter to the Capitol Police, which identified Hysom in surveillance footage as the staffer placing the stickers on Greene’s signs. Using a point of personal privilege, Greene took to the House floor in June to rail against Hysom – then Auchincloss’s chief of staff – while admonishing the Justice Department for declining to bring charges against him.

Greene subsequently announced in July that she filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee against Hysom.

Those events earned some media attention at the time, mostly from right-wing outlets, but the full story and its fallout have not yet been revealed. Nor has Hysom responded publicly before now, either through his social media or in comments to the press.

Asked for comment, Greene shared the following statement with the Blade:

“This has nothing to do with his sexual preference or orientation, or the fact that he’s married to a man, but it has everything to do with the fact that he attacked me, a Member of Congress, and my First Amendment freedom of speech, my Christian beliefs and values. He also broke the law vandalizing my office’s property multiple times, was caught on camera, and continued to do it. He’s been arrested. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice dropped the charges, but I think they should have pressed charges. It’s outrageous that a chief of staff would continue such illegal behavior, and he should be no longer employed in any office in the federal government.”

Hysom pointed out that in the first place, Greene’s decision to hang the sign seems to be a clear violation of House rules. 

While members are permitted to display flags within certain guidelines outside their offices in House office buildings, a policy updated in 2008 stipulates that: “Furnishings of any kind, including but not limited to furniture items (including sign-in/registration tables, pedestals, easels, carpets, rugs and mats); shades, drapes, and screens; artwork, exhibits and posters; and trees, flowers and other plants may not be placed in a hallway or exit access.”

“If she can violate the standing rules of the House and hang offensive and abusive material in the halls of Congress under the guise of free speech,” Hysom asked, “doesn’t the Constitution also protect my right to free speech?”

He added that Greene’s response was disproportional in the extreme. “Placing a sticker on a sign that isn’t supposed to be there in the first place is hardly a high crime or misdemeanor.”

Greene had also hung a sign that read, “Let’s go Brandon” with the hashtag “#FJB”– both slogans used on the right as substitutes for the phrase, “Fuck Joe Biden.” Hysom said many House staffers were deeply offended by the display of a message so disrespectful of the sitting president of the United States, and in a public corridor of a House government office building.

As a gay man whose religious upbringing taught the importance of love and respect as Christian virtues, Hysom was also offended when Greene hung the “there are TWO genders” sign to bully and taunt Newman.

After requesting a copy of the House’s policy governing decorations in the hallways of its office buildings, he put a sticker on Greene’s sign, which according to Hysom kicked off a back-and-forth exchange whereby Greene would occasionally respond to the stickers by writing a message on the poster back to Hysom, once signed (heart) MTG. Most of the stickers contained Bible verses to point out her hypocrisy, he said. When Hysom would put a sticker on one of Rep. Greene’s posters, she would take down the posters to replace them with new ones.

One sticker Hysom placed on Greene’s gender poster read, “True Disciples of Christ don’t say the things you say, act the way you act, or treat people the way you treat people.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s former office (Photo courtesy of Tim Hysom)

Greene’s escalation of the matter came as a surprise, Hysom told the Blade. “The reality is that I challenged her hate speech in the halls of the Congress in a way that triggered her and caused her to have a meltdown,” he said. “Her response was to send a like-minded horde of her followers to harass and threaten me.”  He added, “Regrettably, there are likely to be other waves of hate and vitriol, but I won’t be intimidated by her or her hate-filled acolytes.”

First, pursuant to the investigation by Capitol Police, likely conducted at Greene’s behest, an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant was issued. (Contrary to what Rep. Greene told the Blade, Hysom was never arrested or charged with a crime.)

Then, in her 31-minute speech denouncing Hysom from the House floor, Greene tried to goad Auchincloss into firing Hysom, while directing her supporters to bully and harass him.

Almost immediately, a deluge of threats and harassment started pouring in to Hysom’s personal and professional email and social media inboxes. He received a threatening letter at his home address. Many of the messages contained hateful anti-LGBTQ slurs. It continues to this day.

Now that the threats have died down, at least for now, Hysom said he is unsure whether his home is still being monitored by the Capitol Police, but the hateful messages have slowed, though they have persisted.

Example of a Facebook message Hysom received (Image courtesy of Tim Hysom)

Amid the chaos following Greene’s speech, Lowenthal reached out to offer support to his former chief of staff and extended an offer for Hysom to return to his office in the months before the lawmaker’s planned retirement from Congress at the end of this year.

The congressman sent a statement to the Blade on his experiences working with Hysom:

“Standing up to bullies and railing against injustice, while demanding equity and grace in how we treat one another, are ideals I have always aspired to. And yes, sometimes that demands what my dear friend John Lewis called ‘good trouble.’ Tim has always fought for these same ideals of justice and equality and he has demonstrated his above-and-beyond dedication to this institution more times than I can count.

“I have been honored to have him as a member of my staff, just as each of my staff have benefited, both personally and professionally, from working with him. The foundation of my success in Congress has been the efficient and effective office that Tim built for me and kept running smoothly through his more than eight-year tenure with my office. And despite his commitment to my office, he has also dedicated himself to the betterment of not only this institution as a whole, but to the development of the professional staff that works here.

“I can say without hesitation that Congress is a better institution for Tim being a part of it.”

For her part, Greene accused Hysom of targeting her for her gender and her religious beliefs. Among the messages she shared on Twitter were:

“Soon Biden’s DOJ will prosecute people for hate crimes if they dare try to stop trans strippers dressed in drag from grooming children at schools & in public, but they refuse to prosecute @JakeAuch COS Tim Hysom for hate crimes against my faith & gender and my district’s beliefs.”

And: “[email protected] did you know your COS Tim Hysom repeatedly targeted me? I have some of the highest number of death threats in Congress, with approx 60 official threats just this year and one man on trial for trying to kill me. Do you or Tim Hysom know any of them? Is Hysom one?”

Hysom assured the Blade he has not sent and would never send threatening messages to the congresswoman. Apart from the exchange over the stickers, he said he has never had any contact with Greene or her office.

The poster Greene took to the House floor on June 21 – which misleadingly accuses Hysom by name of criminal conduct with photos of him taken from surveillance footage – was hung outside Greene’s office in Longworth since that time. (It is unclear whether she brought it to her new space in the Cannon House Office Building.)

Ahead of Lowenthal’s retirement, Hysom said he’s actively job hunting. “I have some prospects, but nothing has materialized definitively yet,” he said. “It’s a bit scary, but I remain hopeful. I’m an institutionalist and I love the House. I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to build up the Congress and Rep. Greene has spent every waking minute of the last two years trying to tear it down.”

In terms of the impact of his conflict with Greene, Hysom said, “Nobody on my side of the aisle puts any credence whatsoever into what Congresswoman Greene says, so it’s not like people on my side of the aisle believe putting a sticker on her poster was a ‘hate crime’ or that a Bible verse on a sticker somehow means that I hate women or Christians. On the contrary, I simply tried to point out that what the congresswoman says and does are not at all Christ-like.”

Still, the last thing Hysom was looking for was a public feud with the congresswoman. “Nobody that knows me would consider me a rabble rouser,” he said. “Walking by those hateful signs every single day just finally got to me. I couldn’t let it go unanswered.”

And then, there’s the matter of the House Ethics Committee investigation.

“The committee is still deliberating on what to do next. These are uncharted waters,” Hysom said. Republicans on the committee are perhaps unlikely to cross Greene and vote with Democrats to dismiss the complaint, while Democrats would be unlikely to assist Greene in her quest to further punish Hysom by voting with Republicans to move forward and impanel an investigative subcommittee.

With the members deadlocked, the matter could die with the end of the current Congress, though the committee could vote to extend the case into the upcoming 118th Congress.

The House Ethics Committee declined to comment.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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State Department

State Department spokesperson criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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