I was one of the 250 people invited to attend the televised LOGO / HRC Democratic debate in Los Angeles, which focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues. From my second row seat, I spent a good deal of time bobbing around the head of a husky Department of Homeland Security officer in order to get a view of the stage. He told me that he had a mission: to protect Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I don’t think “pissing me off ” was part of that mission, but I could be wrong.
There was one benefit to my seat: witty gay men surrounded me and editorialized on every issue. Like smart, lovable gnomes, they guarded the gay agenda. They opined when they thought a candidate had fumbled or advanced the ball, and revealed the show’s behind-the-scenes happenings. This included details about how half the crew had volunteered without pay to help with the production—putting in hundreds of hours—simply because they were thrilled the presidential hopefuls were addressing the LGBT community.
I got the skinny on Bill Richardson’s aim to get skinny. The New Mexico Governor had asked that no snacks be placed in his dressing room. He didn’t want to be tempted off of his diet. One gnome said to me, “If he can be tempted by Chex Mix, can we trust him when corporate campaign checks get tossed into the mix?” I couldn’t quite grasp the connection.
Sitting in the audience were Arianna Huffington, Doogie Hauser’s Neil Patrick Harris, and California Assemblyman Mike Feuer. LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl rushed to his seat and apologized for his tardiness, explaining how he’d been backstage coaching his candidate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
The Democrats were questioned in the order they RSVP’d for the event; Obama was first, and Clinton was last. I could not help but think Clinton had planned it that way, as part of an “I’m experienced, unlike my opponent” strategy to get the last word. I could just hear her practicing in front of the mirror: I refuse to meet with leaders of rogue nations. I refuse to RSVP until after my rogue, I mean, esteemed competitors have done so…
Obama—following the “separate but equal” line and discounting the importance of the word “marriage”—argued that the rights afforded married couples should be given to the LGBT community. He described himself as a “supporter… of a strong version (of civil union);”a platform that did not produce smiley faces in the crowd because they felt the word “marriage” was central to true equality. I felt Obama’s biggest error was to suggest gay issues and homophobia are less important than inner city jobs, but the interviewers threw him a towel and let him walk.
The second victim tossed into the ring was Senator John Edwards–the “barbers union” and “scissors lobby” favorite—who also shied away from supporting same-sex marriage. Edwards blurted out, “it’s not true” in response to a rumor that he was uncomfortable around gay people. I heard my neighboring gnome mumble, “Thank goodness for that, Senator. Cause it looks like we’ve got you surrounded.” The audience was tightly wrapped in a U around the stage.
Governor Bill Richardson made the most pronounced blunder of the evening when he said that being gay was based on choice rather than genetic factors, a comment that surely came from a deprivation of brain food, most notably Chex Mix. Following the debate, his campaign sent an emergency email to the press, reversing his position.
Richardson—who also refused to support gay marriage—pounded the line, “I’ll do what’s achievable,” so many times that those around me wondered if yanking him off the stage would be achievable.
Senator Clinton—who wore a festive coral jacket—was not immune from the innocent “candidate bashing” game. One gnome said, “she’s dressed like one of us,” and another mused, “I almost wore the same outfit.” Like Obama, Edwards and Richardson, Clinton did not support the LGBT threshold issue: gay marriage; and like her opponents, she could not explain why. She merely called it a “personal position.” Clinton’s greatest stumble came when she said the LGBT community’s fight for equality “has not been a long term struggle yet,” implying that a group needs to suffer for a prescribed number of years before a politician takes notice. Could this argument be applied to the 2008 election? Is there a particular junior Senator from New York who has not struggled long enough in politics to be taken seriously as a candidate for President?
Former Senator Mike Gravel, the candidate I affectionately call the “grumpy outsider,” was not so grumpy that night, nor was he an outsider. The crowd loved it when he tossed his support to same-sex marriage, and predicted “five years from now, the marriage issue will be a non-issue.”
At first the gnome to my left said Gravel’s shoes were not up to par. “I am judging all candidates on their shoes and this one fails. This is a gay forum. He should know better.”
However, after Gravel proved himself to be an advocate for LGBT issues, the gnome altered his harsh position on footwear. ” I’ve changed my mind. I like what he said, so I’ve decided his shoes are ok.” I’m sure Gravel is relieved.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich strolled into the room as if he was the reigning champion of the LGBT agenda and gave his unwavering support to same-sex marriage. Like a cross between Tarzan and a Vermont Teddy Bear, he radiated a cuddly and caring confidence while beating on his chest that “the federal government (should) be the agent for change” and that as president, he would be a true leader, always taking a stand on principle. The panelists gushed over him, saying, “They told me not to fawn over you” and “you’re so evolved for a member of Congress.” My gnomes were all smiley faces and applause.
I feel Kucinich won the debate due to his sincerity and passion for the issues, while Gravel earned second place.
The gay debate was about the LGBT community “arriving” and formally entering the hallowed political halls. The gay debate was about fun and making tasteless jokes at the poor candidates’ expense. The gay debate was about moving towards a necessary equality.
And there’s absolutely nothing the matter with that.
Published in the Los Angeles Daily News on August 16, 2007 and in the Simon Magazine in August 2007.