With primary elections still underway, National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jon Hoadley is one busy man. He was recently in town working with the Chicago chapter on how to take advantage of the fact that both Democratic presidential candidates have Illinois ties. Hoadley spoke with Windy City Times about the role LGBTs are playing in the race to the White House, the changing political landscape and ENDA.
Windy City Times: Let's talk about the race for the Democratic nomination. It's getting really exciting. First of all, what do you think Super Tuesday said about what is to come for LGBT people come November? Were a lot of Democratic voters and new voters turning out? What does that mean for us?
Jon Hoadley: Overall, the fact that there is such Democratic energy really speaks to the moment we are in in politics. The people want to move beyond politics as usual and they are tired of the political football that's been happening in D.C. They are excited about tackling issues that we care about. We are changing our position at home and in the world. That was reflected in the fact we have two Democratic candidates that are changing the political race and bringing out hundreds of thousands—millions—of new voters across the country. Look at some of those results from Super Tuesday. In Georgia, 91,000 more Democrats turned out than Republicans. We see that happening successfully across the country. One hundred thousand more Democrats turned out in South Carolina than Republicans. Does that mean we are definitely going to win those states in the fall? Not necessarily. But is it possible the dynamics are changing, and that's the real message that is coming out of here.
WCT: This race is really unique. How is this different, from an LGBT perspective, from 2004? Are we being tapped into more, recruited more and taken more seriously as voters?
JH: Yes, all of that. Remember in 2004, … there was a question on the role the community played given the political landscape. Also in 2004, we had the first wave of marriage amendments go through. What a rough time for our community. Then in four, years, all of sudden, candidates are talking about LGBT issues in the public setting and in LGBT settings. They are talking about where civil unions are a no-brainer and it's a compromised position. We are having a conversation on how to push candidates to support full marriage equality. We are talking about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Of course, we've had victories on state ballot initiatives and we have Democrats keeping it off the ballot in Florida or California. What a tidal change we are in.
WCT: I still hear some frustration from voters who say Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama aren't bold enough when it comes to LGBT issues. What is your comment on that?
JH: I think, as a community, it shows that we still have work to do. But when former Vice President Al Gore took a courageous stance and came out in favor or marriage equality, that's the leadership that all the presidential candidates have the capability of showing. We have to make sure that we get them to the place where they can and do show that leadership. I think there are ways that we build into that. Right now, again, Sen. Clinton is from Illinois, Sen. Obama represents Illinois. We have a specific civil-union bill on the table in Illinois. Let's find out where they stand on that. If they both are supporting it, I think that's a great example of how we can put their positions into practice.
WCT: Now, sometimes gay voters feel like we have to choose the lesser of two evils because no candidate is bold when it comes to our issues. Do you think either candidate could make instrumental change in office if elected?
JH: Definitely. If we want to pass a fully-inclusive ENDA, if we want to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, if we want to repeal DOMA and anti-family laws, these things take Congressional leadership. That means we have to put real Democrats and real progressives into as many seats as possible so when leadership is making decisions, they are not saying, 'Oh, I have to be careful about conservative Democrats.' They are saying, 'How do we keep the progressive Democrats in office and happy?' I think that's the mindset change that we are moving towards. Presidential has a specific role, too—there are so many appointments that go to departments and heads of agencies and whatnot. We're talking about things that would have a real impact on real people's lives—sex-education policies and how they are interpreted—and, of course, judicial appointments. These are things that you bet the executive branch has a lot of power in determining, and you bet impacts the LGBT community.
WCT: Now, let's go back and talk about superdelegates and delegates. Your organization worked really hard to make sure there were more gay delegates and more people really taking part in this. Can you tell me a little about what your organization did?
JH: We are still working really hard. The process is complicated. In 2007, working with the LGBT Americans Caucus of the National Democratic Committee, they implemented a rules change that included the LGBT community in the outreach goals for the national convention. So, essentially, state parties were tasked with including numeric goals to achieve for the LGBT community and a comprehensive inclusion plan to make sure our community was part of the process for this election. Our organization worked with staffers to implement this. We're so excited. … We successfully got 321 delegates for the national convention. There are 21 LGBT superdelegates. What we are doing right now is working our Pride in the Party program to encourage our community to sign up and then we take that information to the delegates and … then we help them educate and train them so they can run for these positions [ such as appointed positions ] .
… The other thing that is really important about the work that is happening is we're not just saying we want 321 white gay guys. How do we find the delegates who are truly reflective of our community? We identified over 1,000 people across the country and put them into this pipeline. Some were successful, some were not. But what we got out of these already is New Hampshire is the first state that actually officially elects delegates … and the top vote getter in the system was … openly gay. He was the top vote-getter in the first state, [ so ] technically the first person voted to the Democratic National Convention is openly gay. We're just starting to see more results. D.C. elected LGBT people of color to the convention. These are votes that are starting to pop up across the country now. There'll be more in March and April.
WCT: Can delegates also help shape where the party stands on LGBT issues?
JH: Yes. That's part of the reason—this isn't just about sending 321 people to Denver. This is really about how do you get 321 people from our community who are excited and passionate about improving the Democratic Party. When they are there, they are talking to other Democratic elected officials, party leaders, influencing people on the platforms committees, talking to state party leaders about best practices. Then, there is almost this tangible excitement that you get from participating. I was there in 2004 and just sitting there on the floor was an amazing experience. You take that back with you and get more people involved in the process, you get our community geared up to turn up and vote in November, you talk about long-term organizing goals and that's tangible, that's the X-factor about why we need people there. We need over 300 people who are champions in our community for Democratic politics who are passionate and getting people excited about it.
WCT: Your organization if very grassroots and focused on making changes locally as well. Have you noticed the community changing how it mobilizes and who is becoming active in the process over the last few years?
JH: Yes. What is interesting is I think the LGBT community is becoming more sophisticated overall in terms of political work. Also, we are talking advantage of new media, taking advantage of online organizing and thinking about what that means for moving forward in the future. We're moving to a place where we are going to become a larger online component of getting LGBT Democrats. The Democratic Party is good, but we want to make it even better. One asset that we retain is that there is also a real physical presence to our chapter-based system. One thing that we pride as an asset in our volunteers and how we mobilize our work is in these groups in our chapter system. A lot of groups can't do that still because they are purely online. I think that makes us unique, as also makes us incredibly valuable. We are finding more people that want to support that hybrid model.
WCT: Let's go back to national. We're still not where we should be, but we've made strides. One thing I wanted to talk to you about is ENDA. Do you have any insight on where that it is right now? I know you began your tenure just as things were getting pretty nasty.
JH: You know, the ENDA situation really, I think, highlights tactical divides in the community that we're working on now. Regardless of how they stood on strategy, I think everyone is really committed to making sure no one in our community faces discrimination. I know that there were a lot of personal attacks that occurred during the fight, and I don't think that was helpful. But I think what it also shows is we need to step it up. We needed more influence, we needed more grassroots contacts. I took Congressman [ Barney ] Frank's words very seriously when he said we need to do work. National Stonewall Democrats is committed to passing an all-inclusive bill. We are trying to work with grassroots partners in target districts to make sure that we can shore up the support of anyone that needs it. Congressman Frank said, 'Show me the votes,' and Rep. Baldwin said the votes were there in the first place, but we're going to work with Frank and Baldwin and everyone else to pass this bill.
WCT: Do you think we learned a lot from that experience that there are still Democrats that need some schooling about our community?
JH: To say the least. Stonewall Democrats is in our 10-year anniversary. By and large, it's not a conversation about are Democrats better than Republicans. I think that conversation has been answered. Log Cabin Republicans is doing great work to improve their party. I'm glad someone is. Our job though is also to say how do we make the better alternative completely value our support? That means electing more progressive democrats, but not just democrats, but good democrats. When I think about what Stonewall is going in the future, it's working locally to elect the best possible Democrats that are going to pass legislation that protects our community. … We are targeting three to five chapters but we are going to make investments in them so they can grow and target and win campaigns that protect LGBT people. That's the Stonewall 2.0 that we're moving towards.
WCT: What are some other issues Stonewall has its eye on this year, and what are some other ways you see the organization moving forward?
JH: One is the whole electorate process and improving the party's. … It's important work that has to be done. The second thing that we're going to do is refocus on … emphasizing our grassroots chapters. We're … evaluating political possibilities that are out there and to work with them on local issues that are most important. It may be getting a school board to change their non-discrimination or bullying rules. It might be passing a local non-discrimination act or partner benefits ordinance. Maybe it's targeting a legislator has been so vile in their communications that it's been making it impossible to move forward at a state level. We're investigating who we are keeping our eyes on.
WCT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JH: I think we're really taking a hard look at what worked the past 10 years and what didn't' work and being honest about that. We're still a relatively young organization. For people that have been involved in Stonewall in the past and maybe fell off the radar, we invite them to come back and check out the work that is happening. For people who haven't gotten an invitation to be involved in politics, this is the time to do it. It's an exciting year, not only presidential but all the way down the ticket and getting involved in a Stonewall chapter really sends a signal that our community is a valuable player in the political word and I invite people to give it a try, come check us out and see the work that we are doing nationally and connect with your chapter locally and make a difference.