The HRC/Logo Visible Vote 08 Forum

I admit it. I had my doubts. When the HRC sponsored forum was announced, I was afraid it wouldn’t work. I questioned the Not-A-Debate format, in which the panel would talk separately with candidates. I questioned having Joe Solomnese and Melissa Etheridge on the panel, even though I respect each of them for the work they do in their own fields. I questioned whether it was worth doing at all when we knew what everyone was going to say.

I’m pleased to admit I was wrong.

It didn’t seem promising at first. When the camera first came on, and we saw Joe and Melissa and Jonathan Capehart squeezed on a couch of an Oprah-like set, with Doogie and Joyce Wischnia in the audience, I thought, “no one is going to take this seriously.”

However, I quickly was glad this wasn’t your typical debate. The panelists were free to be occasionally funny and even sarcastic at times, and I think I may have caught one or two of them rolling their eyes at a few comments. They could also be thoughtful and moving. Although I disagreed with having Melissa on the panel, I thought her question to Clinton, telling about how LGBT people felt like we’ve been thrown under the bus by Democrats, was one of the best moments of the night. A powerful statement of our reality, and the kind of question that couldn’t have worked in a traditional debate, but something that needed to be said.

I liked that the format gave more chance for follow-up with the candidates and seemed to prevent them from slipping into sound bytes. It was surprisingly substantive and often revealing.

I liked that the candidates were surrounded by LGBT panelists and an LGBT audience. It was interesting and telling to see how they handled that situation of being outnumbered. (I was also amused to see Margaret Carlson acting as “gay-to-straight translator” at least twice.)

My impression of the candidates:

Obama

He’s always a good speaker, and I know there’s disagreement on this, but I thought he seemed a bit defensive and cranky. I liked his line that “we’ve got gay friends in red states and we play little league in blue states.” But I think he’s too smart a man to not recognize why people might object to the separate but equal solution of civil unions. He doesn’t need Margaret Carlson to explain that to him, so why is he playing dumb as to why people think that’s not good enough? Why did he treat it so dismissively and patronizingly by saying “semantics might be important to some people…” Message to Obama: it’s not semantics; it’s equality. I was further annoyed when, as a way of defending his unwillingness to support marriage equality, he said that if he had been advising those in the civil rights movement in the 60s he would have told them not to fight miscegenation laws but to fight for voting rights instead. Maybe so, but telling us that was pretty much telling LGBT people that we have the wrong priorities and are fighting for the wrong things.  You don’t get to decide that, Barack. If you can’t defend your stance on marriage equality, don’t turn it back on us by saying we shouldn’t be fighting for it in the first place.

On the plus side, Obama handled the question about black homophobia well. I’m glad it was asked, although it’s a little disappointing that it was only asked of the one African-American candidate. Although if they’d asked that of Edwards or one of the others, I can imagine the smoke coming out of their ears as they struggled not to offend one community or the other.

Edwards

A very different personality than Obama, Edwards responded to the situation by smiling a lot and talking a lot, almost as if he was filling in as much time as he could on his own to lessen the time that could be spent probing him. His awestruck story of the homeless kids at the Los Angeles GLBT Center was charmingly and yet also annoyingly naive.

I liked that he answered Melissa’s question about health care benefits by talking about his universal health care plan. While one of the reasons I argue for marriage is because of the health care benefits and rights it grants, I also feel that getting those rights for same-sex couples is only one small step in the right direction. Health care should be for everyone, married or not.

I found his response to the marriage question interesting. Even though the analysis of the forum has stated that no one changed a position this evening, Edwards did a little. Well, he didn’t change his position, but he changed his reasons. He took back his use of his religion as justification for opposing marriage equality, stating quite clearly that his religion shouldn’t figure into presidential decisions any more than Bush’s should. (Hey John, did you read my blog the other day calling you out on that inconsistency?) He also said that he understood why people see civil unions as separate and unequal and why they would want full equality and are opposed to anything that “stops short” of equality. I was hoping he would take this opportunity to follow Melissa’s advice to Obama and “not be afraid to be the first.” Of course, he did not change his official stance on marriage. But it’s interesting that he’s basically admitted he has no good reason for feeling that way. I’m not sure what this means. Should I respect him less for sticking by a position that even he admits has no good rationale, or should I interpret it as a sign that he’s one step closer to getting “there”? I’m hoping for the latter.

Kucinich

Kucinich was like a happy little magical elf, bringing peace, love, and marijuana. As always, you can get caught up in some of his more inspiring rhetoric and overlook some of the loopiness.

I’ll agree with Melissa that I hope he keeps running. Not because I necessarily want him for president, but because I think it’s always good in primaries to have someone in there to keep things off-center, to say things that more mainstream candidates won’t say. That was particularly useful in a forum like this. There really wasn’t much questioning of Kucinich, just mutual appreciation. But I think that was important too. The little lovefest, the light-heartedness of the audience and panel in this segment, was a visible demonstration of how good it is for LGBT people to have an ally. Probably nobody in that room thought Kucinich has a shot in hell, but they all seemed to appreciate hearing a candidate FINALLY say, “total equality.”

Gravel

The lovefest continued. If Kucinich was a magical elf, Gravel was the kindly great-uncle. He came across less weird in this format than in the other debates. Sure, he was still a little idiosyncratic, and with less chance to win than even Kucinich, but you couldn’t help but love him and be grateful to see an old straight white guy unquestioningly support full equality. Good for him.

Richardson

Oh, Bill. Sorry dude, but that was not good. First there was the defeatest repetition of “we have to focus on what’s achievable.” Then there was the defensive response of “I kept DOMA out of New Mexico. Shouldn’t that count for something?” And then it got bad.

When he was asked if he would sign a marriage equality bill if the New Mexico legislature passed one, he hemmed, hawed, hemmed again, then repeated, “we have to focus on what’s achievable.” Excuse me, Bill, but the premise of the question was that it had been achieved, and now only depended on you. What would you do? Besides evade the question.

Then Melissa asked if he thought homosexuality was a choice and LGBT jaws in the room and throughout the country dropped as he declared, “Yes.” Melissa tried to help him out by rephrasing. Then Margaret tried to translate the question into heterosexualese for him. Still no luck. Was he really that clueless?

Clinton

Last but not least we had the top dog in this race. Hillary came out in her “I understand fabulous” coral silk jacket, wearing a button that said, “Let me be your hag.” (Okay, I made up that last part, but she might as well have.) As always, she seemed comfortable and in control, and she was quick to assert her gay cred by getting buddy-buddy with Joe and reminding him of their late-night strategizing parties.

But they didn’t let her off the hook with the questions. On DADT, they asked why, if she thought it was now so outdated, she hadn’t introduced legislation to repeal it since she’s on the armed services committee in the senate.

In answer to why she wouldn’t support marriage equality, she said, “it’s a personal position.” Hell, that’s the weakest of any of the answers tonight. I expected more of her since she’s usually a good speaker. A personal position? What right do you have as President to make policy based on unsupported and unexplained personal positions? It would be like if George Bush the First had banned broccoli during his term because it was a personal position.

Like Obama, she got herself into a tricky bit of logic. After having to defend her husband’s role in DADT and DOMA, she tried to redeem herself by touting her work, with her gay boyfriend Joe, to defeat the FMA. She said that the amendment would have been “mean spirited” and “discrimination.” Because it would have banned marriage. But she’s against marriage rights anyway. So why again doesn’t that make her mean spirited and discriminatory?

She then made an odd statement that she respects the advocacy that “you” (pointing to the audience) have done on this issue but then said, “but it hasn’t been a long term struggle yet.” So it’s not that you’re against us getting full equality, you just want to see us struggle longer to earn it? WTF? And her responses to Melissa’s emotional “under the bus” question? “I don’t see it the same way you do.” Of course you don’t. Because you were co-piloting the fucking bus.

I think it’s interesting that all of the 4 candidates who are against full marriage equality would talk in terms of civil unions being a step toward full equality. Which means they recognize that they are NOT the same as full equality. So why don’ t they just fucking say that, instead of dancing around the issue and saying it’s all semantics and that it will be just as good. It’s obvious even they don’t really believe that.

How long before some major candidate will finally realize that it’s not just about marriage, that it’s about full equality, and that as long as they keep setting limits and qualifiers, they’re not treating us as equal?

To watch video of the forum, go to VisibleVote08.com

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6 Comments

  1. Stan said,

    August 10, 2007 at 2:14 am

    Lets us be real you know Obama will be the best candidate among democrats to support gay issues in the white house…unfortunately, the gay community likes the Clintons even though they have failed to help their cause when they had the chance to effect changes in White house…Mark my words if she wins it will be the same old story…

  2. Gina said,

    August 10, 2007 at 8:47 am

    No, I do not “know” that for sure. I think Obama is very promising and I like him better than I like Clinton (despite your generalization about the gay community liking Clinton), but I’m still undecided. It will probably come down to other issues that decide it for me since they’re all in a line on LGBT issues.

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