There's a war brewing in the Democratic National Committee -- and, no, it's not about race. This battle, however, does involve another so-called minority group: the gays. And the results may cost the party some serious trouble -- and dough.
For those of you not paying attention, the drama started back in 2006, when former DNC staffer Paul Yandura wrote an open letter questioning the party's so-called queer commitment. The April 20, 2006 letter read, in part: "All progressives need to be asking how much has the DNC budgeted to counter the anti-gay ballot initiatives in the states... We also need to know why the DNC and our Democratic leaders continue to allow the Republicans to use our families and friends as pawns to win elections." Yandura's letter probably would have been ignored had it not been for one tiny detail: his domestic partner, Donald Hitchcock, headed the DNC's gay branch, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council. The proverbial pooh soon hit the democratic fan.
Hitchcock found himself in a tough position on April 27th, 2006, when gay weekly newspaper The Washington Blade published Yandura's letter. Less than a week later, on May 2nd, DNC chief of staff Leah Daughtry allegedly asked Hitchcock to step down. The long-time activist refused, but soon had no choice after Dean and company gave him the boot, which certainly makes one question the DNC's motivations. Were they getting political revenge a la Valerie Plame, or did they fire Hitchcock for his poor performance, as was later insinuated: "It was decided we needed a change. We decided to hire a proven leader." Hitchcock calls their explanation hog wash and has since filed a discrimination suit against the DNC.
In addition to the wrongful termination, Hitchcock alleges that the DNC paid him less than his straight counterparts. Hitchcock also claims that the DNC "punted" gay outreach to the finance department, which used gay voters for their cash, yet failed to make real legislative headway. The activist wrote in a February, 2007 letter: "...Lately we seem to be treated solely as an ATM for the party, with our civil rights seeming an afterthought or burden. After Gov. Dean became Chair of the DNC, two LGBT political positions were abolished, and two finance positions were added, for a total now of four positions in Finance and zero in Political. 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."
Howard Dean's gay politics will certainly come under fire. The failed presidential candidate and doctor has long been criticized for dismantling the gay and lesbian outreach program, as well as for his contested comments on the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club. A mere two weeks after Hitchcock's firing, Dean told the 700 Club and its pious audience that the Democratic party defined marriage as between "one man and one woman." The gays went wild. Not only did Dean's comments misrepresent the official party platform, which calls for gay inclusion and state-regulated marriage laws, but how could Dean appear on a program with such flagrant homophobic leanings? In an awkward attempt at damage control, DNC treasurer Andy Tobias, who also happens to be a homo, claimed that the DNC had been misled: Dean thought he was talking to ABC Family, not CBN. Tobias held this position until this weekend, when mounting evidence forced him to concede that he had been "misinformed." It's worth mentioning that Dean later apologized for his gaffe, saying the party does "take a firm stand on equality." He refused to say whether or not he supports same-sex "marriage." The current accusations, however, make one wonder if the former Vermont governor is simply pandering for the gay vote and, more importantly, the gay dollar.
I can't say whether Hitchcock's allegations are true, but recent evidence indicates a flippancy toward, if not flagrant disrespect of, the DNC's gay adherents. Queerty.com, which I also happen to edit, posted internal DNC emails last week in which lesbian deputy finance director Julie Tagen, Finney and new gay leader Brian Bond discuss working with the gay press. The exchange concerns The Washington Blade, which apparently rejected a story on the DNC's gay delegate training program. Hoping to get their story out -- and some journalistic revenge -- the aforementioned DNC staffers plotted to take the story elsewhere, particularly to one of the Blade's competitors. Utterly clueless about the gay publishing world, Tagen lobs the question to Bond, writing, "You probably have a better sense since I tend to use The Blade and other gay papers in the bottom of the birdcage." Not the kind of message one wants to hear from a DNC staffer, particularly because the DNC so readily touts its gay-friendly policies.
Gay voters, myself included, are torn: do we support the party that offers us at least nominal inclusion, or do we strike off and find a more independent-minded politico? More astute voters will realize, however, that we don't have much of a choice. The United States' plurality voting system tends toward a two-party structure. There are simply are no viable third party candidates who have the gays' backs. Sure, the Democrats may not be entirely evolved when it comes to gay rights, but they're really all we've got. I can only hope that the next few weeks of testimony and public scrutiny will set the party straight. If not, well, I may have to stop voting all together -- and nobody wants that. Except for the Republicans, of course...