August 10, 2008
Dem Platform weak on LGBT-onics
Posted by: Chris
The Democratic Party platform just approved yesterday and headed to the convention in Denver for final adoption represents some progress on nuts-and-bolts gay rights positions but is a rhetorical retreat of sorts -- at least that's been the initial reaction among some gay groups and the LGBT left blogosphere.
Pam Spaulding, for instance, labels the 56-page document "lite on the LGBT, hold the mayo" because she did a word search for "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" and came up empty. You don't get any more entrenched in the identity politics ghetto than measuring the platform by those metrics. GLAAD's Director of National News Cindi Creager was similarly unimpressed, calling on the media to further investigate this disturbing trend of supporting full equality without paying tribute to our movement's established religion of "LGBT-ism."
If anything, the platform is a good rhetorical fit with Barack Obama's support for traditional liberal support for minorities but with an approach that makes equality something that embraces everyone, not just those who belong to balkanized groups. So rather than fall into the trap of backing "workplace protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers," the draft platform attacks the issue from a more inclusive angle:
Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and disability in every corner of our country, because that's the America we believe in.
Note how that plank not only extends the fight for equality beyond the workplace, but also lists categories that ultimately include everyone -- since non-discrimination laws protect heterosexuals as well, after all.
Other LGBT, er, sexual orientation/gender identity highlights:
- expresses "opposition" to the Defense of Marriage Act, but doesn't expressly call for repeal, a rhetorical feint that ought to be fixed in Denver, lest the signal be that full DOMA repeal -- a central Obama-Hillary point of difference during the primaries -- is not a near-term priority;
- expressly backs repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which represents progress over an '04 plank that only vaguely stated, "all patriotic Americans should be allowed to serve our country without discrimination, persecution and violence";
- backs "a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act," which presumably means trans-inclusive while stopping short of the "United ENDA" suicide call against gay-only ENDA if that's all that can done;
- backing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but without using the more recent moniker, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which of course highlights the most famous anti-gay hate crime in U.S. history.
The avoidance of LGBT-onics does not appear accidental, since language from the 2004 platform has pretty clearly been pink-washed. As ABC News' Jake Tapper notes, the platform four years ago proclaimed:
- 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.
This time around:
- We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections.
The effect is the same as mentioned on ENDA and non-discrimination. The commitment is the same, but the language tries to make equality a principle that applies to all families, not just those of the LGBT variety.
If this rhetoric were the product of a presidential campaign that had avoided using "the G word," it might give rise to concern. But in fact Barack Obama was far more likely to talk explicitly about gay Americans before a general audience than any other primary contender, including Hillary Clinton. In that context, the platform seems a bit of fresh air in the stale politics of LGBT-dom.
All that said, the platform was something of a disappointment on the most gay rights issue of the day -- marriage, of course. Except for opposing DOMA, there's no commitment to oppose either federal or state-level constitutional amendments that would ban gays from marrying, and the '04 language about "full inclusion" for "all families" falls considerably short of Obama's promise to back federal recognition of same-sex couples that is equal to that afforded heterosexual married couples.
Party platforms are rarely statements of political courage as much as laying out broad principles designed to satisfy core supporters while not alienating the political center. In that respect, the Obama platform is a success on our issues, even as it represents precious little concrete progress over four long years.
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