Friday night's AIDS joke by Senator Evan Bayh at the 2010 Indiana Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner wasn't the only queer commotion in the Hoosier state this weekend. Saturday afternoon, conservative Congressman Brad Ellsworth was chosen by the Democrat's State Central Committee to replace Bayh on this fall's ballot. Bayh will be retiring at the end of this term.
While I've written about Ellsworth's anti-gay voting record and positions as well as his lack of support in progressive circles, with Bayh's backing and lots of arm twisting, Ellsworth became the official nominee last night. The LGBT community, women's groups, and African-American and Latino caucuses all opposed the selection, but the state party arranged the election so Ellsworth was the only serious candidate available.
While state party chair Dan Parker extolled Ellsworth's "Hoosier values" after the vote, the Indiana Stonewall Democrats had heard enough language about "family values" at the previous evening's dinner. They looked at Ellsworth and the party's recent dismissal of LGBT issues in direct opposition to their own platform and decided they couldn't vote in favor of the Blue Dog democrat.
The org abstained from voting on Ellsworth and released a blistering statement explaining their reasoning. They list their frustrations with the state Democratic Party's "faint support" and complete lack of understanding about LGBT issues.
For Immediate Release
Today, the Indiana Stonewall Democrats (ISD) spoke resolutely and loudly by saying nothing on our ballot to determine Evan Bayh's successor for Democratic candidate for United States Senate.
To any who would question our commitment to the Democratic Party based on our abstention, we would respond with a simple question, "What does it mean to be a Democrat?"
We find our answer in the Indiana Democratic Party's 2008 platform, which includes the following statements:
As a party of the people, we strongly oppose restriction of opportunity to Hoosiers based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic background.
We also encourage legislation addressing hate crimes that would protect the freedom of all Hoosiers and create tougher penalties for those who infringe, criminally or otherwise, on those freedoms.
We must work to ensure that all people - without regard to race, religion gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic background - have the right to achieve the American dream. For the sake of current and future generations, it is our duty as Democrats to put an end to any injustices that threaten that goal.
We find further guidance in the Democratic National Committee's 2008 platform, which states:
We support the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the implementation of policies to allow qualified men and women to serve openly regardless of sexual orientation.
We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections.
We believe it is time for the Democratic Party at all levels to live up to our expressed ideals.
Our abstention is born, in large part, from the frustration of feint support from the Indiana Democratic Party, which has taken our support for granted too long and shown no interest in developing ISD further.
We do not intend our abstention, in any manner, to be taken as support for Republican nominee Dan Coats. His objection to permitting highly-qualified gays and lesbians to serve in the armed services is well-documented, as is his historical hostility to the gay and lesbian community. Further, we doubt a high-paid, Washington, D.C. lobbyist is what average Hoosiers needs in this time of economic insecurity.
Nor do we intend our abstention to be construed as an indictment of Congressman Ellsworth's personal sentiments towards gays and lesbians. By all accounts, the Congressman interacts respectfully and meaningfully with our community, and to his credit, implemented a gay-friendly employment policy as Vanderburgh County Sheriff at great political risk to himself.
But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."
Regrettably, there has been, up to this point, a disconnect between not only the Democratic Party's words and deeds, but in the Congressman's personal conduct toward gay, lesbian, and transgender Hoosiers and his votes and public statements on their issues. Specifically, Congressman Ellsworth voted against the Hates Crimes bill and the version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that provides protection to transgender Hoosiers, and he has not expressed publicly his willingness to vote for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Moreover, and perhaps most tellingly, when asked during our meeting whether he supports adoption by gay couples, Congressman Ellsworth stated he "needs more information."
Given the number of children suffering in the foster care system, the Congressman's reservations about gay adoption are deeply troubling.
But, in fairness, we must say that our meeting with Congressman Ellsworth was constructive overall. Our hope is that he will continue to learn about our issues, moderate his positions on areas of disagreement, and follow through on our many areas of agreement.
Had the Congressman spoken publicly for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, voted for the Hate Crimes bill, or supported a transgender inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or had the Indiana Democratic Party shown interest in facilitating the growth of our caucus, perhaps our path today would have been different. But we see a clear distinction between an elected official with a record forged under the crucible of political pressure like Senator Evan Bayh's and a candidate who claims to be supportive but whose voting history and public rhetoric show an effort to too frequently side with those who demonize gay, lesbian, and transgender Hoosiers, and a political party that does the same.
In sum, we will no longer go along for the sake of "party unity" with a party that too frequently fails to unify with us under its own guiding principles.
We want to state emphatically on behalf of our members and our fellow progressives in the Democratic family that our support must be earned by living up to the Democratic Party's principles through action. When that is done, we will respond accordingly. Approximately two weeks ago, we hosted a fundraising event for several Indiana House of Representatives candidates. We did so to support our friends who have lived up to our platform and to help preserve the Democratic House leadership that has done the same.
It is our hope that we will soon be able to likewise embrace Congressman Ellsworth without reservation and usher in a more fruitful relationship with the Indiana Democratic Party.
The Indiana Stonewall Democrats will have no further comment at this time.