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Scapegoated by the Democrats
by Robert Vanderbeck
November 18, 2004
First Published in Socialist Worker

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Many gays and lesbians woke up on the morning of November 3 feeling like they’d been stabbed in the gut. As pundits of all stripes rushed to submit their analysis of the latest Democratic Party crash and burn, the media frenzy began to resemble a morbid competition to see who could pour more salt on the wounds of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

Without Ralph Nader to scapegoat for this election cycle’s thumping at the polls, it became clear that pushy gays and lesbians--who had the audacity to seek equal marriage rights--would be the new Naderites, publicly reviled by Democrats for their candidate’s loss.

Sure, a strong majority of GLBT folks marched in lockstep behind the Kerrycrats. But how could they be so selfish as to don those tuxes and bridal gowns, and dance around like a bunch of fairies on the steps of San Francisco’s city hall? Couldn’t they see they were ruining it for us? We deserve your votes, they say, and you should be grateful for the crumbs we might just throw you.

Here’s our “friend,” California’s Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, on the struggle for gay marriage in her home state of California: “It gives [conservatives] a position to rally around. The whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon. People aren’t ready for it.” Openly gay Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said of the gay marriage movement, “I think it hurt...I wasn’t willing to pay a price for a lot of hoopla that didn’t accomplish anything.”

Left-wing critics Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch--who relentlessly reminded their readers throughout the election season that there was at best a “dime’s worth of difference” between Bush and Kerry on most important issues--nevertheless faulted Democrats after the election for not recognizing the Christian piety of Americans. Cockburn proposed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as Nader’s heir in the blame department.

Too much, too fast? Hell no. This is not the moment for apologies, nor to let this scapegoating demoralize us.

Here’s the news that those playing the GLBT blame game won’t emphasize when telling you to sit down and shut up. CNN exit polls showed that while only 25 percent of voters expressed support for gay marriage, a further 35 percent supported civil unions. We here in Vermont know well that civil unions fall far short of full equality, but 60 percent of people expressed support for extending more rights to gays and lesbians.

One certainly doesn’t find this in the mainstream discourse, as commentators remind us repeatedly that voters cited “moral values” as their top concern--chosen from a list by a whopping 22 percent of people, while a measly 78 percent identified things like the economy, Iraq, the “war on terror” and education as their main priorities.

No marginalized group should ever be criticized for standing up for its rights, and it’s a delusion to think that had a Democrat been elected president, the trajectory of GLBT rights would have been much altered. Remember Bill “Don’t ask, don’t tell” Clinton and the Defense of Marriage Act?

But Kerry voted against DOMA, right? Newsflash from Kansas, Dorothy: someone who says “I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman” (i.e. your relationship is inferior) and “This is a matter that should be left to the states” (isn’t this what apologists for slavery used to say?) is not your friend.

But Kerry said he supported some form of civil union, didn’t he? Don’t kid yourself--Kerry never introduced federal civil union legislation in all his years in the Senate, and certainly never used his position to push the Massachusetts legislature to take action on it. And while Republicans will lead a march for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Kerry was never going to work too hard to oppose it, and certainly wouldn’t have pushed for federally recognized civil unions.

It seems to me that the lemming-like march of many gays and lesbians behind the Democrats is symptomatic of how GLBT people have been conditioned to accept the lesser bully as their friend. When we were young and closeted, many of us quickly learned to accept any situation that didn’t involve getting pounded into the locker room floor.

I knew that many of my high school friends harbored homophobic views, for example, but as long as I stayed closeted and kept quiet, they didn’t call me “fag,”, and I thought that was good enough. While hanging out with them was slightly preferable to being mocked by the football team, most of us eventually realized that this isn’t a productive way to live. As adults, however, we still flock to the lesser bully come poll time.

As GLBT folk discuss how to proceed now, here’s a few things I hope we keep in mind.

First, it’s a waste of energy to campaign for candidates who won’t support our issues in the hopes that they will change their minds once elected. Politicians almost always give us less than what they promise, not more.

Second, victories rarely come without strong social movements. This is not the time to play dead, but to organize to protect our recent gains and push for more. Otherwise, our position will be even further eroded.

Third, now more than ever, GLBT activists need to align themselves with other struggles for social and economic justice. While marriage equality can be one goal among many, we should also remember that if we had a universal health care system, marital status wouldn’t matter when allocating the right to be healed.

We wouldn’t have to worry about winning access to our deceased partners’ Social Security benefits if we had a system that adequately supported all elderly people. And we mustn’t forget that the culture of war feeds the cult of masculinity that seeks to oppress sexual dissidents, control women’s bodies and generally punish the weak.

There’s zero evidence that our rights will be extended through unwavering support of either major party. It’s time to think hard about the alternatives.

Robert Vanderbeck is an activist living in Vermont. This article first appeared in Socialist Worker online (