The progressive gay blogosphere has arrived and the rest of the political world is cordially invited to take notice. The addition of former Senator Mike Gravel (D-AK) to the upcoming Democratic presidential candidate forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and MTV's LOGO channel represents a sea change for our corner of the netroots community.
Whether or not one thinks Gravel should have been included in the August 9th event is not very important to the story. The real lesson here is that the growing gay blogosphere is "a new form of political commentary leaving adolescence with all the swagger of a twenty year old," says fellow Huffington Post blogger Sara Whitman.
A little bit about the evolution of the issue. Last Tuesday, HRC announced that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had agreed to participate in a presidential forum on August 9. The forum's focus, the release said, will be "issues of importance to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community." To date, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich have also confirmed they will attend.
HRC responded to the initial question from bloggers: 'Why wasn't Mike Gravel invited?'
A "standard we set was that the candidates we invited had to have raised $100,000," said an HRC spokesperson, who later amended that to mean that the $100,000 had to have been raised by the end of the second quarter, a deadline which HRC says Gravel had not meet.
"We wanted to make sure that with the limited time we had to present this forum, our community got to hear from candidates who could actually be President. We have gotten some feedback about not inviting Mike Gravel. Unfortunately, he didn't meet the $100,000 threshold," said the spokesperson at the time.
Gay bloggers from sites as diverse as Queerty, Pam Spaulding's Pam's House Blend, The Bilerico Project and the Huffington Post quickly rallied behind Gravel, who has run a gay-positive campaign, supports marriage equality, and has railed against discriminatory policies such as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. As a result, HRC, three days after their initial announcement, invited Gravel because of what they said was "enthusiastic community response." Gravel immediately accepted the invitation, and his campaign credited the "online blogosphere community" for making it happen.
Kudos to the bloggers and to the Human Rights Campaign for creating the space for an open dialogue. Exactly one month and one day after launching their own blog, HRC BackStory, the multi-million dollar organization not only heard bloggers and their concerns, but they were able to keep the blogs informed with updates on the emerging event details.
This, of course, is not the first time LGBT bloggers have helped create change. When HRC went after Microsoft for not supporting an anti-discrimination bill and Ford for slashing ad purchases in community publications, bloggers contributed to the effort by helping to mobilize petition signatures and phone calls. When the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation went after Snickers for an anti-gay commercial, bloggers engaged readers to pressure candy-bar manufacturer Mars.
And, of course, perhaps most important of all was Lane Hudson's posting of Mark Foley's emails at StopSexPredators. That one post created a story which became one of the keystones in the Democratic takeover of Congress. Lane's 67 words and four images helped to change the course of history.
What is truly interesting about the Gravel matter is that it represents one of the first times an effort by bloggers to bring change within the LGBT community was met with such a resounding success. Other bloggers have tried to strong arm groups, as Andrew Sullivan is wont to do, but usually to little avail. In this case, bloggers provided quick feedback to bring their views -- and those of their readers -- to the kind of organization that just a few years ago would take weeks, if not longer, to respond to members' concerns. This time, the exchange occurred over the course of three days.
The folks at HRC are good people, and I'm 100% certain there was no great conspiracy to exclude Mike Gravel from the debates.
At the same time bloggers -- including widely read Whitman, Hudson, and Spaulding -- wrote of their disappointment of Gravel not qualifying. Their arguments for inclusion were bolstered when it was learned that just days before Gravel hit the $100,000 threshold.
Blog posts were written, emails flew, phone calls were made, ideas tossed around. Netroots activists and organizational leaders were united by technology and by week's end the event was expanded by a half-hour (to 90 minutes) and Sen. Gravel was invited to attend.
"We won!" a friend who blogs about gay politics told me. "Can you believe that the blogs beat HRC at this?"
"No," I replied. "There is no reason to declare a winner or a loser. The winner here is the entire community. The technology brought us closer together -- and folks on the same team don't try to score points against each other."
People in Washington listened to those they represent outside the Beltway. What a refreshing change.