Silent Power, Loud Wallets

You may have noticed the almost complete absence of any talk about gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered (GLBT) issues last week in Boston at the Democratic National Convention – a virtual silence that, in a year during which the incumbent president proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, seems puzzling if not shocking.

Don't be fooled by the apparent silence, however, because in fact the gay lobby within the Democratic Party is writing a key chapter in the 2004 election story. If the first draft of that chapter seems to have been strategically embargoed from public view, well, that's because the GLBT coalition appears content to exercise its power this year quietly, offstage and with little fanfare.

Meanwhile, where political and electoral power speaks loudest — that is, through the contribution of financial and organizational resources — the gay lobby is making plenty of noise in 2004.

Too Mainstreamed to Bother Shouting

The lack of discussion of gay issues at this year's convention is less a sign of political abdication than policy acceptance. Sexual orientation – as both a reality and an issue set – has become so fully mainstreamed within the Democratic Party it no longer merits any special mention.

For example, did anyone bother to notice when prominent gay leaders – from Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin to Democratic National Committee finance chair Andy Tobias – spoke from the Fleet Center's podium? Even those who did heard very generic speeches. Other than a brief mention of family health protections for domestic partners, Congresswoman Baldwin's speech was devoted to national health care policy; aside from noting the upcoming tenth anniversary he and his partner will soon celebrate, Tobias' only remark pertaining to the gay rights agenda was a quick reference to hospital visitations.

This just in, folks: Gay Americans can talk plenty about non-gay issues.

And what about John Kerry's Thursday night acceptance speech? In his 1992 acceptance address, Bill Clinton twice mentioned homosexuals in the context of the inclusive American family — and both times Clinton specifically uttered the word "gay." Twelve years later, and just weeks after the Senate rejected an attempt to propose a gay marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Kerry's lone mention of sexual orientation was a veiled reference to the defeated amendment at the end of a sentence in which he called upon President Bush to run a positive campaign devoid of misusing "for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States." Not once did Kerry – who opposes gay marriage, but supports civil unions — utter the words "gay," "lesbian," "homosexual," or "sexual orientation."

Nor were major headlines generated offstage, or outside the Fleet Center at any of the various events sponsored, hosted or featuring gay Democrats — which included a major fundraiser headlined by Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco mayor who made national news last February by certifying more than 4,000 gay marriages. Though worried Democrats succeeded in keeping Newsom off the podium in Boston, the mayor raised no public objections to being snubbed.

In short, other than the few gay activists who protested a Human Rights Campaign party because HRC cancelled a planned performance by outspoken comedienne Margaret Cho, it was a very quiet week.

Queer as a $1.5 Million Dollar Bill

But so what? Gay leaders are so confident and comfortable about their significance to the party, they no longer feel a need to raise their voices at what once would have been perceived as unacceptable slights.

Even Kerry's support of a gay marriage amendment for his home state of Massachusetts caused no uproar. "What may be even more striking," observed National Journal's Richard Cohen, "is that gay rights Democrats aren't all that concerned about the limited attention to their cause here in Boston…. And they appear as enthusiastic about the presidential ticket as any other group of Democrats."

None of which is to suggest that the Democratic Party is ignoring or taking for granted the GLBT community. Indeed, the Democrats couldn't ignore their gay supporters even if they wanted to, because the community's financial resources now provide a steady source of income for the party and its candidates:



o Human Rights Campaign has announced that it plans to spend $10 million during this election cycle, including support for 220 congressional candidates.



o The Democratic National Committee organized a GLBT fundraiser in New York City on June 25 that netted the Kerry campaign a cool $1.5 million, according to Tobias, who estimates that somewhere between five and ten percent of all monies raised by Democrats this cycle have come from gay donors.



o And, of course, Howard Dean's meteoric rise and precedent-setting fundraising during the second half of 2003 was fueled in no small part by a flood of contributions from gay donors who rallied behind the Vermont governor's bold, unapologetic support for civil unions.
These and other examples of the financial clout of the Democrats' GLBT coalition demonstrate that the gay lobby recognizes that cheap talk means less than deep pockets. By raising their pens more than their voices, members of the Democratic gay community made plenty of noise last week in Boston — even if it sounded like silence.
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