August 21, 2008
And then there were three . . .
Posted by: Chris
. . . Well there aren't three yet actually, but gay Colorado businessman Jared Polis was the surprise winner last week in a highly competitive Democratic primary and is the heavy favorite in November in his bid to be the third out gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even better, he would be the first gay man to win a congressional election as a non-incumbent. Lesbian Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was the first to do it, way back in 1998.
Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and former reps Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) all came out after they were already in office.
Polis is due belated congratulations for pulling off the victory in a three-way contest with no incumbent for the congressional seat representing Boulder and some of the top ski resorts in Colorado. Polis, a former chair of the state board of education who made a fortune from the e-card site bluemountain.com, spent more than $5 million of his own money to beat former state Senate president Joan Fitz-Gerald and conservationist Will Shafroth.
Fitz-Gerald had been as the favorite and her lengthy record of strong gay rights support earned her support against Polis from many local gays, notably Tim Gill, another wealthy entrepreneur whose Gill Foundation has done ground-breaking political work in Colorado and elsewhere.
Normally I would have jumped all over HRC for that decision, because it was very likely driven by fear of offending locals (i.e. donors) who backed Fitz-Gerald. It's not surprising that Polis had to beat a gay-friendly opponent; that's likely to be the case in almost all the liberal congressional districts where out gay candidates are going to have the best shot.
That's the primary reason -- along with homophobia, of course -- for the 10 very long years since Baldwin's landmark victory. Kudos to the Victory Fund for jumping into the Polis race when lots of pundits and analysts were saying it was a loser.
Still, I'm cutting HRC a break on this one -- close that gaping jaw, please -- because for one thing they often stay out of primaries with no incumbents. Much more importantly, I've had my own misgivings about Polis ever since he made clear he would have voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Barney Frank and passed by Congress, on the grounds that it included sexual orientation but not gender identity as protected categories.
Without being drawn back into that bitter debate, it reinforeced why ideological purity has no place in a legislative body that inevitably horse trades, compromises and moves along incrementally. Like most activists and GLBT groups in the "trans or bust" crowd, Polis was maddeningly naive in his analysis, explaining it this way this way to a transgender writer for PageOneQ:
Q: So, among your endorsements is Congresswoman and ENDA co-sponsor Tammy Baldwin...
A: She was on the right side of [ENDA], you know. I was disappointed, along with many progressive members of our community, that we seemed to be cutting political deals and leaving part of our community behind.
Q: I felt it on a personal level, too, one of my best friends being a transwoman. We were being very pointedly pitted against each other politically, especially in the blogosphere.
A: I do think there was a good grassroots response from gays and lesbians nationally, to push back against our political leadership in Washington. I know that HRC and others got a lot of negative letters from gays and lesbians. I have a lot of transgender friends as well, and I think the best thing I saw was some protesters at one of the HRC dinners saying, "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'."
An inclusive ENDA is all we should really be talking about. I don't think that we should talk about a piecemeal version that pits part of our community against one another.
Not only is Polis flat-wrong about Baldwin, who voted for the gay-only version of ENDA, he's also frighteningly simplistic. "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'"? Seriously? Since you can spell "Equality" without a G, L or B, should we assume he'd be all for a trans-only version?
Fitz-Gerald said she would have voted for Barney's ENDA, and that was enough for me for the primary. But Polis' victory is still a very important one, so let's hope he gets a reality check, whether from his general election race against someone to the right of kum-ba-yah or from good-ole Beltway politics.
(Above: Photo of Jared Polis celebrating victory via the New York Times)
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