June 20, 2014 at 9:00 am EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Should we always vote for the LGBT candidate?
Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

A gay man is running for Congress in Massachusetts against a straight incumbent. The gay man has been endorsed by the Victory Fund. So why are so many members of Congress who are strong supporters of both the Victory Fund and LGBT rights holding a fundraiser in Washington on June 25 for the straight guy?

Those hosting the fundraiser include Sen. Ed Markey, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and participating are Steny Hoyer, Richard Neal, James McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, as well as members who are themselves gay or bisexual, including Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and former Congressman Barney Frank. The easy answer is that the gay man is running as a Republican and the straight incumbent is a Democrat. But the answer is really much more complicated than that.

The gay Republican is Richard Tisei and he first ran and lost against the straight incumbent John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012. Tisei served in the Massachusetts Legislature for 26 years. He then ran and lost as the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker’s ticket in 2010. It was at that time that he came out. The Democratic incumbent is Tierney, who has served in Congress since 1997. He is a liberal member of Congress who has voted with other Democratic representatives from Massachusetts. He is the co-author of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the College Affordability and Accountability Act of 2008 and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The issue is more than just gay or straight because in Congress today, seemingly even more than in the past, party affiliation is paramount. That is the reason so many LGBT members are willing to raise money and support a straight person over a gay person. Should Tisei win and come to Washington, his first vote would be for the Republican leadership. Today that would be John Boehner for speaker and most likely even more conservative Republicans for majority leader and whip. Those votes alone will dictate what Tisei can or can’t accomplish during his tenure in office.

The man Tisei is committed to supporting for speaker is John Boehner. Boehner has so far refused to bring ENDA to a floor vote, even though it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. So even if Tisei campaigns and says he supports ENDA it won’t matter. He will be casting that first hypocritical vote for leadership that controls the agenda and opposes what he says he supports.

Tisei’s supporters say that having an openly gay Republican in the House can impact others in his party. Tisei’s history suggests otherwise. When he ran for lieutenant governor with Baker in 2010, he wasn’t able to convince his running mate to support transgender rights.

The issue for many Democrats is simple: Electing another Republican just helps Boehner and the far right stay in power. We have often seen that contrary to changing the Republican Party, LGBT groups in the Republican Party like Log Cabin, went along to get along and supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who campaigned on a pledge to appoint judges opposed to marriage equality.

Like many, I hope the Republican Party will change in the future. I believe that enough Republicans will decide that they can’t continue to support leadership and a platform that is consistently on the wrong side of history. They will see that a Republican Party that refuses to pass an immigration reform bill, continues to carry on a war against women’s rights, including denying equal pay for equal work, campaigns against raising the minimum wage and works to deny full civil and human rights to the LGBT community is not a path to a better future for America. But that fight will have to be carried on internally in the Republican Party.

Democrats shouldn’t be led to believe that they are helping by electing Republican members of Congress — gay or straight — who will support the current leadership.

  • All things being equal, Yes we should vote for the LGBT candidate. But as we have learned, at least in San Diego, we often find out that an LGBT candidate does not support our issues and/or is financially beholding to people/organizations who are hostile to us. I think LGBT voters are sophisticated enough to know when an LGBT candidate really has earned our support and votes.

  • Peter is absolutely correct here! If the question is how being gay should affect one's vote, the answer is that one should vote for the candidate–regardless or sexual orientation or party affiliation–who will most likely be able to advance the interests of the gay community most effectively.

    Here, padding the GOP majority by handing a seat in a liberal district to the GOP would not be the wise choice by the standard of advancing the interests of the community, as Peter has well explained. The idea that Tisei will miraculously change the GOP caucus into supporters of gay rights is absurd. First, as Peter pointed out, Tisei has shown no capacity even to influence the Massachusetts GOP! Second, it is not as though GOP members of Congress lack exposure to gays and lesbians. They have major donors, staffers, and family members who gay. They won't vote pro-gay because their party is utterly controlled by its bigoted base. Third, Tisei will be forced into kowtowing and playing political games, which will undermine our community. For instance, he will forced to endorse candidate after candidate, including for president, who vehemently oppose gay equality. He will give "gay cover" to GOP bigotry. No way.

  • Tisei got close to a seat in 2012 that should be a democratic lock because Tierney is Massachusetts “Bob MacDonald.” Nobody has proven him guilty of anything, but clearly a large percentage of MA voters weren’t buying his “blame the wife” defense and they wanted an alternative. The all-knowing Democratic power brokers didn’t give it to them two years ago, so they may very well take matters into their own hands this year. Massachusetts has a long history of considering a socially moderate republican when faced with a flawed Democrat. It’s not new news. Had Tierney stepped aside and allowed another democratic candidate to run in 2012 you’d have had nothing to write about. I blame Tierney for opening the door that Democrats are scrambling to close, not LGBT voters who might want to vote for “family.” Egos are often the worst enemies of strategic thinking.

  • Its qite possible that tisel – Repub is a stealth candidate. Trying to take dem seats to conttinue to try and Destroy our first black president

    There are bad gays, bad dems, bad Rs and we cant be single issue people when the congress is being controlled more and more by the tea party and religious extremist right wingers

    My experience in the last 5 years with the gay community is that many of them are , as an outgrowth of the closet, not really tuned into the big picture

    Think also of how the repubs and lots of their haters would treat tisel re committee assignments, let him into whats really going on in their minds

    He 'd be what was in the past the equivalent of a Token black during the past, in politics

  • I’ll vote for the gay candidate if I think his politics are sane. If you are a gay Republican but are known to support policies or a party platform that opposes gays, why would I vote for you? I doubt I would vote for someone from GoProud for example. They put the Republican party before the gay community. Such groups often say there are more important issues than gay rights. Well, then if that’s the case why do you identify yourself a “GAY” Republican then? Is there a point?! Are you using the gay label so you can be used a token by the party. You need something to make you stand out but you’re really only gay in name only.

    As a latino, I won’t vote for a latino if the candidate opposes GLTB rights. Tokens don’t buy my vote!

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