Originally Heard on the John Selig Outspoken Podcast
Each of us in the LGBT community has a unique window of opportunity during 2008. The mood in America is different during this presidential election than any election year I remember.
Being both a news and political junkie I have been keeping myself glued to both television news and the Internet. Though listening to the TV pundits and political spin–doctors and reading blogs and the myriad of political coverage I receive via email each day becomes tiring and unnerving after awhile, I have noticed three key trends this year.
First of all Democrats, Independents and Republican voters all want change. Barack Obama was the first candidate to tap onto this fever. In reading analysis of what is behind the Obama phenomenon Andrew Sullivan of all people came up with the best analysis I have seen to date. Though I’ve not been a fan of Andrew’s as he is far too conservative for my taste, Sullivan’s insight into Obama’s appeal to voters is right on target. Sullivan believes that Obama appeals to voters who are upset with what has been going on in our country and that Obama provides voters a way to both voice their anger while enabling them to transcend it by providing a message of hope. Candidates from both parties have been picking up on voters’ desire for change. Each is attempting to outdo their opponents by running as the best change candidate.
Secondly, young people have been more involved with this election in larger numbers than in any election in forty years. Typically voters 29 or younger just haven’t participated in the electoral process in large numbers. 2008 is different. Young people are volunteering and they are voting in unheard of numbers. The last time that I remember such strong youth involvement in a presidential election was in 1968 at the height of the unpopular Vietnam War when youth were being drafted to fight the war. Demonstrations were taking place on college campuses and protests were taking place in Washington, D.C., at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and on streets across the United States.
Thirdly, voter turnout for the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire Primary set records. Not only are Democrats and Republicans voting, so are Independents. There is little doubt that this trend will continue throughout the rest of the primary season and into the General Election on November 4th. The good news is that the Independents are tending to vote more heavily in Democratic primaries than in the Republican ones. Hopefully, this trend will continue throughout the rest of the primaries and into the General Election on November 4th. Independent voters are the ones who determine the outcome of presidential elections. Perhaps even some Republicans who have been fed up with the antics of the Bush Badministration will cross over and vote Democratic come November.
So what is this special window of opportunity that for the LGBT community has in 2008? During this podcast Dr. Gary Gates, of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law talked about the huge increase in the number of same–sex couples in states between the coasts and especially in states that have passed constitutional amendments against same–sex marriage. He postulated that this is because the country has become more accepting of gay people so we feel more comfortable coming out. A larger percentage of gay people have been out longer in the liberal states on both coasts. It isn’t that people are moving in droves to red states and cities such as Utah and Texas or Salt Lake City and Dallas. We have always been here. However, we are now being public about who we are and are more willing to be honest when surveyed by the census and other polls.
The 2008 election gives us a chance to take a huge step. We have, perhaps the most important significant opportunity in our lives to come out to family, friends, neighbors and coworkers, heck, even complete strangers about what it is like to live in our country today as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender American. We need to share our stories. Most people have no idea about the prejudice that each of us face and the impact it has on our daily lives.
I earn my living in the field of marketing and advertising. I’m sure that you’ve heard about focus groups where people are invited into a discussion group that is carefully controlled by a moderator and also video taped. The clients sit behind a one–way mirror reading meaning into every comment and non–verbal cue from the focus group. Companies carefully test new products, brand positioning and advertising creative to see what is most likely to catch on with consumers. I have no doubt that religious fundamentalists developed the term “special rights” in such a manner in an attempt to push negative buttons and turn as many mainstream Americans against the LGBT community as possible. Fortunately, through our coming out, we are overcoming those negative images that prove false.
I think that most Americans are fair–minded and mean well. It is human nature to succumb to messages of hate more easily when they are angered, scared or sense unfair advantage. Most straight people have no idea that we can be fired from our jobs just because we are gay and that we can be denied an apartment because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. They have no idea that same–sex couples and their kids face tremendous discrimination by not being allowed to marry and that civil unions will not be enough to overcome the disparity in rights. Like us, most of mainstream America was horrified by the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. The difference is that they thought Matthew’s brutal slaying was a rare occurrence; we know differently. Much of America is tired of the political clout that religious fundamentalists have held within the White House, the halls of Congress and by the strict constructionist judges appointed by Bush. We have a golden opportunity to shed light on further abuses foisted on America by the fundamentalist right’s playing on their fears by turning gays into scapegoats rather than focusing on the real problems facing our country.
So here is my challenge to each of you. Tell your story and share the impact on your life and the lives of your LGBT friends from the hateful policies of the Bush Administration and social conservatives in Congress. Talk about how “Don’t Ask Don’t tell” hasn’t worked. Talk about why the Employee Non–discrimination Act and Hate Crime legislation are desperately needed. Talk about how same–sex couples having the right to marry won’t hurt heterosexual marriages. Talk about the direct impact on your lives from your loved ones, friends and acquaintances if they vote for candidates who have pledged to do everything in their power to hurt us. Make them walk a mile in your moccasins. Their voting for a hateful candidate is the same thing as a personal attack by them against you whether or not that is the intent of their votes! Trust me, having been raised by a Jewish mother, guilt works wonders.
You have a chance this year to make a huge difference, as people are primed to listen. Most of the electorate is downright angry about what has happened to this country. My suggestion is to concentrate on people in your lives who are Democrats, Independents and approachable moderate Republicans. You are not going to change religious fundamentalists or people in the Huckabee wing of the Republican Party.
Since most voters want change regardless of whether they are a Republican, Independent or Democrat, if they identify with the discrimination that you face and what it is like being a member of the LGBT community, they will be less willing to accept hateful positions taken by candidates who continue to pick on gays.
Young people are setting records in their involvement in the election this year both as voters and as volunteers. Young people are far more accepting of LGBT people and same–sex marriage than their elders. Be sure to tell young people which candidates are hateful and which are supportive of LGBT rights and remind them to vote!
Finally, huge numbers of people are voting this year. Typically large turnouts favor the party out of power. For the gay community to obtain equal rights we need a supportive president but we also need supportive senators, members of the house, governors and state legislators. Furthermore, many of our rights are determined in the courts. Some judges are elected and others are appointed by people running for election this coming November. Do your homework on which candidates support us and which don’t. Share your stories and let people know which candidates will make our lives better and which will make them worse.
Each of us must do our part to maximize the opportunity being presented to us this year. First, make sure you are registered to vote. Second, be sure to vote in your state’s primary and during the general election on November 4th. Volunteer for candidates who are supporting LGBT rights. Tell your stories to family, coworkers, friends and acquaintances and write letters to the editor of your newspapers. Do your part to make 2008 a turning point in the fight for gay rights! None of us can afford to miss this window of opportunity!
© 2008 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.