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    October 12, 2006

    HRC and reverse gay-baiting

    Posted by: Chris

    The year is 1983. Americans learn a congressman is gay at the same time they learn he had sex with a former congressional page. The congressman is a Democrat, and his party controls the House. Seeing a political opportunity, a Republican challenger in a district hundreds of miles away seizes on an innocuous statement by the Democratic incumbent there that she is friends with the gay, page-predator congressman.

    The Republican even runs ads on Christian radio telling social conseratives that the Democratic incumbent's "friend has been caught using his position to take advantage of 16-year-old pages." Gay groups rightly condemn the radio ads as gay-baiting: The targeted Democrat isn't alleged to have played any role in the gay congressman's predatory behavior or the resulting alleged cover-up, but she is gay-friendly and endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based gay rights group. The Republican challenger is cynically playing upon conservative Christian prejudices by tarring the Democrat for being friends with a gay predator.

    Part of that story is from 1983, when Democrat Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was outed after he admitted a sexual relationship with a former (male) congressional page. But the gay-baiting ads on Christian radio aren't from the early '80s; they're being run this week in Ohio by challenger Mary Jo Kilroy against gay-friendly, HRC-endorsed incumbent Deborah Pryce, attacking her for listing Mark Foley as among her closest friends in Congress.

    Thank goodness for HRC. Surely the "nation's largest gay rights group" — though it admits to cooking its books on membership numbers — will denounce the gay-baiting attacks on one of its endorsed candidates. Not so fast. Pryce, the targeted incumbent, is a Republican and in fact the No. 4 Republican in House leadership; and Kilroy, the gay-baiting challenger, is a Democrat. That's apparently enough to satisfy HRC executive director Joe Solmonese, whose entire career before taking his current post was in Democratic politics, mostly at Emily's List.

    Solmonese brushes off the entire gay-baiting characterization, telling the New York Times he's reviewed the ads and they're about Foley the predator, not Foley the gay man. "I don't think it's gay-baiting at all," he said. "She clearly is trying to make a case here that has a lot more to do with Deborah Pryce's leadership, supporting [House Speaker] Denny Hastert, but not about Mark Foley being gay."

    Like any HRC-endorsed candidate would, Pryce has called for an investigation and even criticized Hastert, her own party leader, for not doing enough based on the evidence that's come out thus far. HRC's "bipartisan" credibility — such as it is — is seriously challenged by the inability of Solmonese to see beyond his own partisan inclinations to call a Democrat to the carpet on behavior we all know he'd scream to the high heavens about if the offender were a Republican.

    Ironically, it's left to Pryce, the Republican, to explain the obvious about Kilroy's pander to the right: "[Kilroy] has overstepped a bit — I mean she's running those ads on Christian radio! That because I happen to mention [Foley] as a friend that I knew all along; because he was gay, that he must be a pedophile."

    To make matters worse, HRC has decided to endorse both candidates in the Pryce-Kilroy contest. This is how we reward a Republican member of Congress who has kept a ranking post among the ardently anti-gay House leadership while maintaining a voting record worthy of HRC endorsement? Endorse her Democratic challenger as well? Those who defend Solmonese's lackluster charisma on the hustings, not to mention in the radio booth, where he records a weekly self-congratulatory show for XM, have defended his contribution of deft political strategy to HRC. This isn't deft; it's daft.

    So is HRC's ongoing refusal to show confidence in the movement and its message. Across the country, HRC funds efforts to block statewide marriage ballot measures by arguing the citizenry shouldn't "write discrimination into the constitution," all while being too afraid to explain why blocking gay couples from marrying is discrimination in the first place.

    HRC is also keeping secret its list of endorsed candidates, apparently more concerned that backing from a gay group might harm the recipient more than help him or her. You will search the HRC website in vain for any complete list of endorsements; only a few races are highlighted. HRC also hasn't released its PAC contributions, either in individual races or in aggregate, the way it has in past election years.

    It doesn't stop there. Even though it's mid-October and the election is a couple of weeks away, HRC still hasn't made public its congressional scorecard, which would allow gay and gay-friendly voters to know where the incumbents actually stand on gay civil rights and HIV/AIDS issues. It also blunts the influence the scorecard might have in future elections, if incumbents know it won't be an issue in the next election.

    Again, the only explanation for keeping the scorecard secret so late in the campaign is HRC's insecurity that having a strong gay rights voting record will more likely be used against incumbents than in favor of them. This is, of course, classic Democratic triangulation made famous by Bill Clinton. Gay-frendly incumbents who've survived the primaries are running to the center and to the right in the final weeks before the election, and support for "the gays," especially in the midst of the Foley scandal, doesn't contribute to that strategy.

    Someone needs to remind Solmonese that he doesn't work for Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee. The gay rights movement will never be won by slinking into the closet before Election Day, even as HRC celebrated "National Coming Out Day" yesterday. If we don't show confidence that our movement's message will resonate with voters, why should we expect poll-watching politicians to?



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