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March 16, 2007

Some Democrats knock
national party on LGBT issues

Washington, D.C.--“If your goal is simply to elect Democrats, then give to the Democratic National Committee.”

“But if your goal is to make the Democratic Party better on LGBT issues, then your money should go to supportive state parties and independent LGBT groups like the Stonewall Democrats,” said Paul Yandura, a former Clinton administration official and Democratic fundraiser.

“This is a conversation [the LGBT community] needs to have and hasn’t yet,” Yandura added.

According to Yandura, “Not much has changed since last year” when he and his partner Donald Hitchcock openly challenged DNC chair Howard Dean over a number of incidents and issues they perceived as insulting to LGBT Democrats.

A month before Dean addressed the National Stonewall Democrats convention last June, he appeared on the 700 Club in an attempt to reach out to “values voters” and avoid the party being labeled too pro-gay, especially on marriage equality.

Dean caused an outrage among LGBT activists by telling the 700 Club audience--incorrectly--that the party platform of 2004 says “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Hitchcock had been fired by Dean in April as part of a restructuring that abolished Hitchcock’s job as LGBT liaison and all constituency desks at the Democratic National Committee. The change raised questions as to whether or not the LGBT community is being better served, or is just solicited more for funds.

The issue has surfaced again, largely because the DNC doesn’t answer direct questions about its relationship to the LGBT community. Dean also gave incorrect information again, this time to the Democratic National Committee LGBT caucus in January.

Dean said there are no LGBT exit polling numbers because “people won’t admit they are gay” to pollsters outside voting locations.

Exit polls have identified lesbian and gay voters since the 1990s.

Dean addressed the group for five minutes, taking no questions. He did not comment on a promise he made to the Stonewall Democrats in Pittsburgh that the DNC would create and fully fund LGBT political action committees in states with anti-gay marriage initiatives in 2006. This promise was documented in the distributed minutes of the private meeting.

At the January caucus, Hitchcock wrote on Americablog: “LGBT finance staff and key fundraisers did sit at the caucus table, as before, but what is different is that lately we seem to be treated solely as an ATM for the party, with our civil rights seeming an afterthought or burden.”

“Given the meeting, it’s obvious that we continue to be invited to the table, pay for the meal, but we are not allowed to eat,” wrote Hitchcock.

In a January 25 memorandum to state party chairs, DNC LGBT caucus Rick Stafford shared the 2006 exit polling results that Dean said were not done.

That poll shows that nationally, LGBT voters comprise about four percent of all voters and are 75 to 80 percent Democratic--making LGBT voters a significant Democratic Party constituency.

Andy Tobias, the DNC’s treasurer who is also gay, responded to Hitchcock’s blog comment by noting that as Vermont governor, Dean had to tour the state wearing a bulletproof vest after signing the nation’s first civil unions into law in 2000.

Tobias also wrote about the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

“The DNC has worked hard ever since I have been soliciting funds to elect candidates who in almost every instance were far better on LGBT issues than their opponents.”

Tobias continued, “Of the 107 Senators and Congressfolk with perfect 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign in this past Congress, 103 were Democrats and only four were Republicans. Of the 156 who rated zero, 152 were Republicans. The difference could hardly be more stark.”

Tobias was asked five questions by the Gay People’s Chronicle, which he wanted in writing.

“I assume you are asking a similar set of questions of the Republican National Committee’s gay leaders and staff,” he responded.

Tobias then said he didn’t know the answers to four of the questions.

The treasurer answered a question about DNC funding to state PACs saying: “A little DNC money was diverted in 2006 specifically to fight the anti-marriage amendments. But only a little. I don’t know the exact amount.”

Tobias said that is because the DNC only raises federal election dollars.

“So it makes sense for someone like me to give his federal dollars to the DNC, expecting them to be used mainly for federal purposes, while giving non-federal dollars to non-federal groups to fight the anti-marriage initiatives,” Tobias wrote.

Tobias said DNC “was able to do more in some states than others” to defeat the anti-marriage initiatives.

“I don’t think the same can be said of efforts at the RNC,” he concluded.

According to Hitchcock, the DNC raised $2 million from LGBT contributors in 2006, and only about $20,000 made it to a few states to fight the anti-marriage initiatives, which the Republican Party admits are tools to get their socially conservative voters to the polls. Tobias did not deny this.

In a separate interview, Dean spokesperson Damien LaVera fielded some of the questions Tobias didn’t answer.

LaVera said the benefit to the LGBT community of abolishing the LGBT liason position in favor of the new arrangement called the American Majority Partnership is that “Democrats took the House and Senate back.”

“The days of federal marriage amendments are over,” said LaVera. But he stopped short of specific LGBT political initiatives or discussing the return on LGBT donated money.

The American Majority Partnership “works on cross cutting issues,” said LaVera. “It finds cross cutting issues [among different Democratic constituency groups] and works on them.”

As to how LGBT issues are balanced with those of other groups in that equation, LaVera said, “You just have to talk about results.”

“We have extended outreach to everyone,” said LaVera, adding that “everyone” includes “faith-based voters who agree with us if they hear our message” even if they are anti-gay.

Yandura says this is part of the problem, and points to the situation in Tennessee in 2006.

The DNC was very committed to Tennessee in 2006 because Harold Ford Jr. was vying for the U.S. Senate seat, in one of the closest races of the year. Tennessee also had an anti-marriage initiative on the ballot, which Ford and the Tennessee Democratic apparatus supported.

Ford lost. The anti-marriage initiative passed. The DNC, in effect, helped its passage by contributing money and resources to the apparatus.

Ford went on to head the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council.

“I’m not going to talk about Tennessee,” said LaVera.

“I’m only going to talk about forward-looking stuff.”

But LaVera also would not talk about the Mississippi gubernatorial race in 2007 which will pit Democrat Arthur Eaves against Republican Haley Barbour.

Eaves, an attorney, is an outspoken evangelical Christian who is anti-choice, anti-gay, and whose campaign literature emphasizes reintroducing prayer to public schools and arousing social conservatives’ ire over casino gambling.

Eaves has hired the consultants used by John Kerry’s presidential campaign to reach out to social conservatives.

The race is seen by most pundits as a litmus test of the Democratic Party’s willingness to woo social conservatives into the fold.

LaVera claimed not to know anything about it. Yandura said that races like the Mississippi race and Dean’s commitment to electing Democrats in all 50 states regardless of their positions on issues is the reason why LGBT Democrats need to be careful with their money.

“Not all Democrats are LGBT friendly,” Yandura said, “and money to the DNC can hurt our interests.”

“The DNC does not want to talk about this,” Yandura said, and referring to what happened to Hitchcock, added, “and you can see what happens to anyone who does.”

Yandura said LGBT Democrats need to concentrate on building independent constituency groups like the Stonewall Democrats, building supportive state parties, and supporting LGBT-affirming candidates directly instead.



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