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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Gay Dems United for Kerry
by REX WOCKNER
2004-08-04

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Photos by Patsy Lynch. All rights reserved.

BOSTON—While many of the 255 GLBT delegates to the Democratic National Convention held here July 26-29 expressed disappointment over presidential candidate John Kerry's opposition to same-sex marriage and his support for amending Massachusetts' constitution to ban it, they were nonetheless united in their conviction that four more years of George W. Bush will be a disaster for GLBT people.

And they said that Kerry has taken the right position on nearly every other issue of concern to the GLBT community. He supports enactment of same-sex civil-union laws that grant the rights of marriage, and opposes amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

'I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush,' Kerry said in his nomination acceptance speech. 'In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity. Let's respect one another. And let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history: the Constitution of the United States.'

That reference to the antigay Federal Marriage Amendment elicited the second-loudest outburst of cheering of Kerry's 47-minute speech.

Outside of the convention hall, GLBT Caucus meetings were addressed by a cavalcade of politicians and celebrities who proclaimed their support for GLBT Americans.

'The gay and lesbian community is no longer put on the sidelines,' said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. 'You are an essential part of the Democratic Party.'

'There will be a time,' said actor-activist Rob Reiner, 'and it won't be so long in the distant future, where gays and lesbians will have all the rights that every American has. And we'll look back at this time as being ... what was the issue? What were we even thinking about?'

Actor Ben Affleck seconded that emotion.

'I really look forward to looking back on this aspect of our convention [the marriage debate] with some degree of embarrassment for how antiquated it was, where we even have to stand up here and mention that we have some friend who's gay,' he said. 'Guess what folks? Everybody has a friend, a brother, a family member who's gay. ... You're entitled to every goddamned right that every other American is.

'If you want to defend marriage,' Affleck said, 'find somebody and love that person, and care for that person, and be faithful to that person, and commit your life to that person, and don't worry about your neighbor's marriage. ... As somebody who, to be perfectly frank, has enough trouble figuring out who to marry, I don't need the federal or state government telling me who I can marry.'

Greeted with wild applause from GLBT delegates, Affleck said: 'A reception like that just makes me want to take my shirt off and dance. ... You know ... my partner and I—Matt Damon—have done more for raising the profile and awareness for gay men in this city than anyone in the last 10 years.'

HEINZ KERRY: 'YOU WILL HAVE A MOM IN THE WHITE HOUSE'

The loudest welcome at the GLBT Caucus meetings was reserved for Teresa Heinz Kerry, John Kerry's wife. 'I am grateful to you because you symbolize family, you symbolize strength and hope, you symbolize persistence,' she said. 'Because things sometimes are difficult doesn't mean that they're not going to happen. They will.'

She continued: 'If my [male] child ever came to me and told me, 'Mom, this is who we are and this is what I'm going to do,' then I would feel, as a mother, free to share my joy, my pride, with all my friends, no matter the circumstances or religion or their understanding or their culture, in the same way that I would if my son said, 'I'm marrying this wonderful girl.' You know what? What we owe one another is respect, dignity, civil rights and the generosity of spirit that always has been a great American trait.

'Two months ago,' Heinz Kerry said, 'I was in Sonoma for a fundraiser and after I spoke, a guy came up to me and said, 'I wish you were my mom.' ... At least if nothing else, you will have a mom in the White House. ... I will always have an ear, I will always have a heart, and I will always respect and want you to be loved. ... You can call me Mama T anytime.'

The caucuses also were addressed by Maine Gov. John Baldacci; U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; U.S. Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif.; U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex.; U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; '70s pop singer Carole King; Queer As Folk actor Robert Gant; and Sopranos actor Steve Buscemi.

'John Kerry and John Edwards will be elected ... because everybody knows what a phony we have in the White House now,' Matsui said.

'Thank you for building a movement for your own liberation that has now gotten the respect of the entire country,' said Holmes Norton.

'Let's pass a gay-rights constitutional amendment,' said Maloney. 'Let's be on the offensive. I'm tired of being on the defensive.'

'Our nominee for president is the most pro-gay nominee for president in U.S. history,' said openly lesbian Baldwin, who also addressed the convention in prime time, discussing healthcare issues.

Baldwin was appointed one of the convention's co-chairs, a gay first.

Boxer said Bush has taken direct aim at the GLBT community.

'George Bush has decided that this year you are the scapegoats,' she said, referring to his outspoken support for amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

'As far as I'm concerned, you will not be without friends,' Boxer said. 'This hurtful politics is not going away. They've just begun. Now they're going to tell the courts that the courts have no right to have an opinion on whether gays and lesbians should have equality. What country are we turning into?'

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill July 22 that strips federal courts of jurisdiction over challenges to a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that allows states to reject same-sex marriages performed in other states.

'[People are saying], 'This is the most important election of my lifetime,'' Boxer said. 'Over the next couple of years, we may have as many as four Supreme Court justices appointed, and you and I know that [under Bush] that could change America in a way that we would not recognize. We cannot let that happen.'

Like several other speakers, singer King expressed disagreement with Kerry's marriage positions. 'But,' she said, 'I think that with our support and our love and our openness and encouragement, I think he will eventually come to where we are on it. ... This is a good man who has been your advocate for many, many years.'

THE PLATFORM

The official Democratic Party platform weighed in with a host of pro-gay positions.

It says: 'We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush's divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a 'Federal Marriage Amendment.' Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart.'

The platform continues: 'We will enact the bipartisan legislation barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. We are committed to equal treatment of all service members and believe all patriotic Americans should be allowed to serve our country without discrimination, persecution, or violence. We support the appointment of judges who will uphold our laws and constitutional rights, not their own narrow agendas.' Activist Roberta Achtenberg explained: 'This was the most inclusive, egalitarian message that we thought we could put forward that will neither hinder our litigators nor our activists, and commit our party to full equality. Obviously there are certain bumps that have to be gotten around [such as marriage] but this is an expansive statement beyond where we were in 2000.'

The platform failed to support transgender issues, to the distress of the convention's seven known transgender delegates.

Achtenberg—a longtime California activist and an openly lesbian official in the Clinton administration—spoke from the convention podium as well, but outside of prime time.

'We Democrats call for gay and lesbian families to be fully included in the life of America, and will seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families,' she said.

Human Rights Campaign President Cheryl Jacques also addressed the convention, again outside of prime time.

'On behalf of my partner Jennifer, and our beautiful twin boys Timmy and Tommy, I'd like to say how proud I am to be back in my home state of Massachusetts,' she said. 'We seek the right to serve openly and honestly in our armed forces. ... We see a healthcare crisis that can be alleviated through more personal responsibility. That in part is why we're working for marriage equality, so we can do what families do best—care for each other in sickness and in health.'

Jacques' speech apparently contained the only scripted reference to same-sex marriage that was allowed from the podium, as the Democratic Party seemed keen not to alienate swing voters or give Republicans any new ammunition.

'The struggle [on marriage] is not going to be easy with Kerry and Edwards, but the worst result is another four years of Bush,' said gay Chicago alderman and delegate Tom Tunney.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) Executive Director Matt Foreman agreed.

'George Bush's re-election would be a catastrophe for our community,' he said. 'It would set us back for generations to come, and not just around freedom to marry, but HIV prevention, school-safety issues and basic non-discrimination protection.

'John Kerry is really good on 11 out of 12 [GLBT] issues,' Foreman said. 'The fact that he supports the state antimarriage amendment in Massachusetts is disappointing. No politician is perfect. This one is pretty damned close to it.'

BARNEY FRANK GOES OFF-SCRIPT

Gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., addressed the convention at 6:14 p.m. the final night. Frank did not give the speech that was on the TelePrompTer, which did not reference same-sex marriage. Instead, he winged it, and talked extensively about marriage.

'I am sorry that the thought of two women who are in love seeking in Florida to solemnize that love in a marriage so disorganized my Republican colleagues that they decided to put aside the business of America, that they decided a couple of weeks ago that we couldn't deal with homeland security or a highway bill or education or healthcare, and they had to try and knock a big hole in the U.S. Constitution,' Frank said.

He continued: 'I guess I want to try to calm them down. So I'm going to come clean. You hear them talk about the gay agenda, and I'm going to be honest with you now, the fact is, we who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered, we do have an agenda. And here it is: We think we should be able to fight for our country like John Kerry and serve in the military. We believe, revolutionary as it may sound to Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay and Jerry Falwell, we believe people ought to be able to be hired for a job and be judged solely on how well they do the work and not on what somebody else thinks about who they are. We go so far as to believe that a 15-year-old who is different in a lot of ways sexually from others ought to be able to go to high school without being beaten up. I admit it, we believe that. And we even believe, it's true, that when two people are in love and they are willing to be morally and legally committed to each other and financially responsible to each other, that if they are prepared to get married, it's a good thing for the stability of society. We believe that.

'It is the Democratic Party as opposed to our very right-wing Republican opponents who support that agenda of allowing us to fight, of allowing us to marry, of allowing us to go forward as human beings with the rights of everyone else. And it is the Republican Party that opposes us,' Frank said.

CHO PROTEST

Apart from same-sex marriage, the only other gay conflict at the convention concerned the Human Rights Campaign's decision to uninvite comedian Margaret Cho from headlining the weeks' biggest gay party, a fundraiser and delegate reception at a nightclub.

HRC's Steven Fisher said Cho was dumped because 'we were apprised to expect an incendiary and controversial performance.'

HRC's action caused NGLTF to withdraw as a sponsor of the event and gave 17 members of DontAmend.com a second reason to picket it. The group also demonstrated outside the party to highlight Kerry's antigay position on marriage.

'The leading political organizations in our community have chosen to politely downplay the Democrats' attacks on our equal marriage rights, all while using the marriage issue in fundraising letters to swell their treasuries,' said DontAmend's Andy Thayer. 'Can you imagine the NAACP endorsing a candidate who opposed legal equality for African-Americans [or] NOW endorsing a candidate who opposed legal equality for women?'

HRC's J. Smith said the group is 'sorry for any distress or embarrassment' caused by the Cho decision.

'We did not want to allow the GLBT community ... to be used as political fodder for the extreme right at this particular time, in this particular setting,' he said.

But HRC communications chief Fisher conceded that HRC's action may not have been the best move.

'I can't say it's 100 percent that Cho's performance would have created a bigger media firestorm than what's going on now,' he said. 'But I think the risk was very real. And I think our taking a hit in the community is worth avoiding even a 30 percent chance of distracting from the efforts to defeat George W. Bush. Our community is their target and we can't give them any opportunities. If I were a Republican operative and I heard that Margaret Cho was going to be debuting new material at the gay event at the convention, I'd make sure press was there. ... We have to keep our eye on the prize.'


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