August 21, 2015 at 4:29 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Clinton’s LGBT backers unfazed by email controversy
Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Hillary Clinton is being criticized over her use of personal email as secretary of state. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has found herself in the familiar crosshairs of Republicans and the media amid controversy about her use of personal email as secretary of state and classified information reportedly found on her server, but her supporters — LGBT or otherwise — seem unfazed and dismiss the controversy.

Richard Socarides, a New York-based LGBT advocate, said the candidate “has my enthusiastic support” despite the ongoing controversy.

“This in spite of unprecedented attacks from Republicans in Congress, false reports in the media, and a barrage of negativity from her and our Republican opponents,” Socarides said. “I am confident she will weather the storm and any others that may come her way and that she will not only be an effective leader for LGBT Americans but for all Americans.”

The story intensified last week when Clinton turned over to the FBI her personal server after a top intelligence official discovered top secret information in two emails that traveled across the server. She also relinquished a thumb drive that contains thousands of emails she previously turned over to the to the State Department. Clinton’s campaign has insisted she’s not the target of a probe.

According to media reports, the Clinton server was wholly unencrypted for the first three months of her tenure as secretary of state, which may have left sensitive information during that period open to hacking by foreign intelligence services.

Steve Elmendorf, a gay D.C.-based Democratic lobbyist, said he has “no fear” about Clinton’s potential electability as result of the email controversy.

“She continues to beat every Republican she’s running against,” Elmendorf said. “Her favorables are better than any Republican in the race. Her favorables are better than any Democrat in the race. I think this a long campaign … There will be good moments and bad moments.”

Elmendorf added he has “no doubt” Clinton is completely free of any wrongdoing despite increased scrutiny by the media and the Justice Department investigation.

“I think this story’s completely manufactured by the news media,” Elemendorf said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

The sense among her LGBT supporters is the controversy over her use of email is being manufactured to produce drama in the Democratic primary and damage Hillary Clinton’s reputation. After all, the law that would have prohibited her use of personal email without sending a copy to a work account wasn’t signed into law by President Obama until 2014 (although officials during Clinton’s tenure urged State Department employees to avoid using personal email).

Hilary Rosen, a D.C.-based lesbian Democratic activist, dismissed the email controversy as insignificant compared to the choice of Republican candidates.

“I am confident that Hillary Clinton will be a strong general election candidate,” Rosen said, “Elections are about choices. Every one of those GOP candidates has significant flaws — most important of which is that they would set back LGBT progress. I think everyone needs to stop all this handwringing.”

Clinton herself has dismissed the significance of the controversy, saying she used personal email as secretary of state out of convenience, although she now acknowledges the decision was anything but convenient.

But the controversy has resulted in testy exchanges with the media. During a news conference this week in Las Vegas, Clinton shrugged when Fox News’ Ed Henry asked whether she wiped her server, making an ad-homimem joke of “like with a cloth or something?” instead of answering the question.

According to Politico, a reporter asked Clinton as she was exiting the news conference whether questions indicate the issue will continue to dog her campaign. Her reply consisted of her turning around and again shrugging with her hands in the air. “Nobody talked to me about it — other than you guys,” she’s quoted as saying.

Elizabeth Birch, a lesbian D.C. Democratic activist and former head of the Human Rights Campaign, said the email controversy is “an annoying distraction” that will eventually fade away and predicted Clinton will win election to the White House, but raised questions about Clinton’s handling of the issue.

“If I was her general counsel, I would not have approved this,” Birch said. “I mean, she was secretary of state in a very challenging era and, you know, it seems to me it never should have happened.”

Birch added Clinton’s handlers “have not done a good job” of explaining how information was handled during her time as secretary of state, saying sensitive information was handled on a secure server completely outside of the system from the one being analyzed now.

“I think she’s completely clear of any wrong-doing, but I wish we didn’t have to deal with perception issues, and this is something that time and time again all candidates need to learn these lessons,” Birch said. “It’s not always about the black letter of the law; it’s about perception, and this feeds into a narrative that we did not need.”

The controversy may be fodder for discussion at the upcoming double session of the Democratic National Committee next week in Minneapolis. The Democratic presidential candidates are set to appear at the event and talk with members of the Democratic National Committee.

Babs Siperstein, who’s transgender and a New Jersey member of the Democratic National Committee, said she doesn’t think the controversy will damage Clinton’s electability, but intends to find out more at the meeting.

“Based on what I’ve read and followed, I think we can anticipate that the actual facts will persist, certainly with the majority of Americans and certainly over the Republican noise machine,” Siperstein said.

Ahead of the meeting, one Democratic bundler, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the email controversy isn’t a source of concern among party donors.

“Nobody is calling to say, ‘Oh my God. Now what do we do?'” the bundler said. “I think people probably have a sense that if it really got bad for Hillary, Biden would jump in. He’s a huge hero to the community, as Hillary is. They both are. Some might go with Bernie Sanders, who’s great, or would see how the others are doing in terms of viability and support one of them. But no, I’ve detected no great angst about the email thing.”

The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the extent to which the controversy is affecting her backing among LGBT supporters.

According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, Clinton’s favorability has dropped since the email flap began, but she still remains ahead of any Republican presidential candidate — a possible sign Americans don’t care about the controversy.

About 56 percent of registered voters say she did something wrong by using personal email as secretary of state, up from 51 percent in March. Within the pool of Democratic voters, the share saying she committed no wrong-doing dipped from 71 percent in March to 63 percent now. Only 37 percent of independents say she’s clear of wrong-doing.

The poll also found her highest negative ratings since March 2001. Among all adults, the polls finds 44 percent have a favorable view of her compared to the 53 percent who view her unfavorably. Still, a majority of women — 52 percent — continue to view her favorably.

Despite her drop in favorability, Clinton tops Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by six points each among registered voters, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by nine points and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina by 10 points.

Rebecca Juro, a New Jersey-based transgender activist, said the email controversy is being used by Clinton’s opponents for political gain, not because the candidate broke any law, and the real focus should be on her positions on progressive issues. Juro supports Democratic candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).

“There are many valid reasons for progressives not to trust or support Hillary Clinton for president, not the least of which are her obvious avoidance of serious discussion of LGBT rights other than marriage, her snubbing of an invitation to speak at Netroots Nation as she attends many events for wealthy donors, her centrist voting record, her extremely parsed, non-committal and carefully calculated public statements on LGBT issues as well as her well-known ties to Wall Street and corporate America,” Juro said.

One potential concern for LGBT advocates is the threat to LGBT rights if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and the situation worsens — or the event leads to an indictment of Clinton as she’s the Democratic nominee. By that time, it would be too late for any other Democrat to jump into the race to run against any Republican nominee. There’s no indication that a criminal indictment is likely.

The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on any fear Clinton’s nomination would jeopardize Democrats’ chances of retaining the White House if she’s weakened heading into the general election.

Should Clinton endure the controversy and win election to the White House, her LGBT supporters expressed confidence she’d be strong on LGBT rights as president.

Birch said based on her experience as HRC president during the time Clinton was first lady, LGBT advocates would have much to look forward to under a Clinton administration, including potential passage of a federal LGBT non-discrimination bill.

“I believe from my limited contact with her over the years that her understanding has deepened on LGBT issues and her passion has grown enormously,” Birch said. “She attempted to do some very groundbreaking moves at the State Department and, in fact, delivered on a lot of those. I hope that passing the Equality Act would be a centerpiece of the legacy she would like to leave.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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