THE BLOG

Why We Had to Stop Harold Ford Jr.

05/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In
one of the most conspicuous displays of gay power since the heyday of
ACT-UP, LGBT people stopped Harold Ford Jr. from challenging Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand in a Democratic primary in New York. They stood
up, embraced their own power, made themselves heard, and forced a well-funded
politician whose potential candidacy was offensive to the community
to abandon his attempt to represent us.

To
be sure, there were a number of factors which affected Ford's decision
not to run, but none had a more damaging effect on Ford's aspirations
at a more critical moment than the
image of him speaking before an angry crowd of New
Yorkers holding up signs with the word "LIAR" written in 10-inch
high letters and chanting "Snake oil Harry, go away!" Such
was the scene two Wednesdays ago when Ford
appeared at a meeting of the gay Stonewall Democratic
Club of New York City. It was the last stop on Ford's listening
tour of New York before he made his decision not to run. Ford
appeared at the club to tell its members and the invited public that
he had evolved from his previous opposition to gay marriage and that
he now supported the cause, just like his would-be opponent, Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand. The Stonewall event and the images that came
out of it sent the clear message that the LGBT community would campaign
relentlessly against him not on a "social issue" or a gay issue
of limited appeal to a minority community, but on the issue that straight
politicians have used against each other for years: trust.

Gay
people protested against the potential candidacy of Harold Ford Jr.
not because of his position on marriage, but because he lied to us.
He lied when, as a congressman in 2004, his office told his gay constituents,
including the president of the Memphis chapter of the Stonewall Democratic
Club and the president of the Memphis LGBT Center, that he would not
support a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and that
he would never write discrimination into the United States Constitution.
He went on to vote for the Federal Marriage Amendment twice, once each
in 2004 and 2006. He boasted about those votes in
television ads when he ran for U.S. Senate from Tennessee
in 2006. He also became an outspoken advocate of a successful
referendum that amended the Tennessee Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
When Ford came out in support of same-sex marriage in January 2010,
and when he stood before gay voters at the Stonewall Democrats meeting
just last week, he was asking people to believe in the sincerity of
his evolution. At the Stonewall Democrats protest the message
to Ford was clear, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice,
shame on me." The message to voters couldn't have been more
obvious: Harold Ford cannot be trusted to represent New York.

Ford told close friends he was shocked by the anger directed at him
from the LGBT constituency. After all, he had changed, or as his
non-campaign liked to say "evolved." Gay people have been
trying to get elected officials to change their positions on gay issues
as long as there has been an organized gay rights movement. So
Ford's evolution is a good thing. But Ford's belief that changing
his position on marriage somehow qualified him to represent one of the
largest LGBT populations in the world is the highest form of narcissism.
It is offensive in how it minimizes the radical, hateful, and even violent
nature of his past acts. While many elected officials across the
country have recently come out in support of gay marriage, Ford is one
of only 36 Democrats in a 535 member Congress who voted to amend the
Constitution to discriminate against gay people. Even Republicans
John McCain and former Congressman Bob Barr, who wrote the Defense of
Marriage Act, were vocal opponents of the measure. Ford also voted
to prohibit federal funding for public school programs designed to stop
gay bashing and for needle distribution programs to stop the spread
of HIV among IV drug users. Ford's shock over gay people's
anger indicates just how totally indifferent he is to the violent impact
of his actions on the lives of real people. If gay people weren't
angry at him, they would be suicidal. They are entitled to be
angry at him. They are entitled to yell at him. And they
are entitled to insist that he not represent them.

Gay
people must be seen as a pretty docile population if someone with Ford's
record, both when it comes to lying and to his votes, is shocked when
confronted with our anger. We saw this last year when President
Obama seemed bewildered about the anger gay people expressed about Proposition
8 proponent Rick Warren delivering the benediction at the inauguration.
We've seen it locally when New York State Senator Josesph Addabbo
voted against gay marriage after receiving over $500,000 in contributions
from LGBT donors. This has to stop. It has to stop not just
for the betterment for gay people, but for all people. Because
what we are talking about here are character issues and the integrity
of our leaders. A politician who would lie to one person about
supporting his equality as a person is a politician who will lie to
anyone about anything. That's something that should make every
American furious. This is not a gay issue or a straight issue.
It's about the truth. The Obama campaign was about "Change
you can believe in." As stakeholders in our government, we are
entitled to "Change we can trust."

Fortunately,
gay people are beginning to recognize that they are entitled to be angry
and that that they are entitled to demand integrity in government in
connection with their issues. Any politician who takes our money
and our support during his or her campaign and then when in office either
fails to act or, as in Ford's case, joins with the forces of hate by
voting against us, must know that the LGBT community has the power and
the will to deliver consequences. Whether you are a Democrat in
the New York State Senate who took our money and support in the last
election and then voted against same-sex marriage last December, a New
Jersey Republican who represents the gayest district in your state but
voted against marriage in January, or the President of the United States
who ran on a promise to support full-equality for same-sex couples but
has yet to deliver, this action should put you on notice: don't take
us for granted.