The 2012 U.S. election could arguably be described as the most successful ever for America's LGBT community. Not only did the nation reelect Barack Obama, the first U.S. president to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, but gays and lesbians won hard-fought victories across the board: in Maine, Maryland and Washington same-sex marriage was legalized by popular vote, in Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin became the nation's first out LGBT person elected to the U.S. Senate, and in Minnesota a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated.
However, one LGBT candidate of note was defeated: Carl DeMaio, a gay man who was in the running to become mayor of San Diego, America's eighth largest city. Standing against him was retiring U.S. congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.). DeMaio ended up losing, with Filner garnering 51.6 percent of the vote to DeMaio's 48.4 percent. However, there's a twist in the tale: DeMaio is an extreme Tea Party Republican, Bob Filner was actually the LGBT-friendly candidate, and gay San Diegans were instrumental in handing victory to the latter.
Local, award-winning LGBT activist Linda Perine explains why:
Since the days of Harvey Milk, the LGBT community has been part of the populist movement to make the American dream work for everybody. Carl DeMaio wasn't part of that movement; he was an anti-immigrant, anti-worker defender of the 1 percent who never lifted a finger for women's rights and was MIA in the battle for marriage equality. That's why the LGBT community rejected him so resoundingly.
Reject him they did. At the time of writing, Bob Filner's majority over Carl DeMaio consists of some 11,380 votes, with Filner leading by some 188,619 votes to DeMaio's 177,239. Drilling down through the publicly available numbers reveals that gay San Diegans and their neighbors in the communities of Hillcrest, North Park, South Park, Mission Hills, University Heights and Middletown voted for Filner over DeMaio by a factor of 2 to 1, handing him a majority of 15,134 in their precincts alone, considerably more than Filner's final margin of victory.
The LGBT community's affinity with Filner isn't particularly surprising; after all, the congressman achieved a 100-percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign, America's leading LGBT organization, in the 111th Congress. Moreover, during that period, Filner was a co-sponsor of more than 10 LGBT-friendly bills, including the Respect for Marriage Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Shortly before Election Day arrived, another stalwart in the fight for gay rights came to San Diego to campaign for Filner: Dennis Kucinich, another congressman with a 100-percent HRC score on LGBT rights in the 111th Congress.
Perhaps more surprising were the allies DeMaio chose to surround himself with during his unsuccessful run for mayor.
"Many of them are virulent homophobes," says Linda Perine, a leading fundraiser for Filner's mayoral campaign. "And he wasn't just accepting their money; he was accepting their terms: He promised conservatives he wouldn't make a fuss over what he called 'social issues' if he became mayor. Well, what he calls social issues the LGBT community calls civil rights. He basically sold the LGBT community out."
One of DeMaio's most prominent campaign supporters was Doug Manchester, now the owner of U-T San Diego, formerly the Union Tribune, San Diego's only daily print publication. It's a name that should ring alarm bells among politically aware gay men and women: Manchester was famously one of the right-wing donors who helped bankroll 2008's "Yes on 8" campaign, the Californian voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state.
It's possible, but implausible, that DeMaio wasn't aware of Manchester's prior support of Proposition 8; after all, in 2008, as the issue made its way to the ballot box, DeMaio was busy running for a seat on San Diego's City Council. Linda Perine asserts that he did so while remaining silent on Prop 8.
"In my opinion," says Perine, "Carl's failure to oppose Proposition 8 while running for, and once he was elected to, the City Council revealed his true values and priorities. Here we are more than four years later and gay Californians still can't marry the ones they love, all because of Proposition 8. The LGBT community doesn't forget that kind of stuff. Despite later laying claim to be San Diego's first openly gay elected council member, he went AWOL when we needed everyone to pitch in."
DeMaio's lack of significant LGBT endorsements also speaks to him not having been the LGBT community's 2012 candidate, in spite of his sexuality. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1991 to provide strategic and financial support to openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender candidates across the United States. In 2012 the group actively supported Tammy Baldwin's successful run for the U.S. Senate and several successful LGBT congressional candidates. Perhaps in a sign of gay men and women's discomfort with DeMaio, the Victory Fund was resoundingly silent on the matter of his candidacy for mayor.
San Diego is a city undergoing change. Recently, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans for the first time in modern history. Bob Filner's election as mayor exemplifies that change, as he'll become the city's first elected Democratic mayor in more than 20 years when he is inaugurated on Dec. 3. The last elected Democratic mayor was Maureen O'Connor, who held the office from 1986 to 1992.
"I think the Republican Party thought they could co-opt the gay community by fielding a candidate that we would vote for out of blind loyalty," says Perine. "However, in voting so dramatically for Bob over Carl, gay San Diegans have shown that we care more about the underlying issues, and on every one of them Bob Filner is the man who will work tirelessly to make sure our interests are defended. Had DeMaio been elected mayor of San Diego, it wouldn't have been a victory for the LGBT community; it would have been a defeat."
In summary it's important to note that empathy and identification with candidates is an important part of elections, both local and national, but in this instance DeMaio didn't lose because gay voters couldn't identify with his sexuality; he lost because gay voters didn't identify with his ideology and his lack of resolve to fight for their rights. Put simply, they refused to play down who they are, or their desire for equality, just to curry favor with the right wing's and religious right's purse strings. Instead, they supported a man who has a track record of fighting for equality and of standing up for what he believes in.
In this election Bob Filner was the LGBT candidate, and his victory was a wider victory for the LGBT community as a whole.