The presidential finish line is eight weeks off, and there's little indication that the LGBT vote in this year's presidential election will divide up any differently than it has in the past several: 3 to 1 for the Democrat. But it is not an entirely civil divide. A stinging barb from Rep. Barney Frank, characterizing Log Cabin Republicans as "Uncle Toms," lingers on the LGBT body politic and will likely undermine efforts by the Obama campaign to win over gay Republicans.
Frank made his remark in at least two places during the Democratic National Convention and defended his view this week, despite reactions from other LGBT leaders who expressed disappointment in his harsh criticism of gay Republicans.
Speaking to the LGBT Caucus at the Democratic National Convention, Frank said, "When they tell us that they are happy to be Republicans because they are getting acceptance and civility, I gotta say that I am again inclined to think that they're called the Log Cabin Club because their role model is Uncle Tom." He made essentially the same remark during an interview at the convention with Sirius OutQ News interviewer Michelangelo Signorile.
After a number of LGBT leaders, including Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, issued statements expressing disappointment in the harshness of Frank's attack, National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jerame Davis punched back:
"The Log Cabin Republicans are the most weak-kneed, sycophantic apologists I've ever encountered. After their dismal performance at the RNC convention driving the GOP platform even farther to the right, they should give back all the money they've fleeced from their donors and close the doors."
Keen News sent a question to Frank on Monday night via e-mail, asking whether his unhappiness with Log Cabin Republicans was just over their giving Republicans their money and votes and whether he saw any value in having LGBT people working inside the party to try and change it.
Frank issued a long written response Tuesday, saying "my use of 'Uncle Tom' was based not simply on this awful fact that they have chosen to be actively on the wrong side of an election that will have an enormous impact on our right to equality, both in fact and in the public perception of the popularity of that cause."
"If the Log Cabin Republicans — or their even more outlandish cousins, the oddly-named GOProud —were honestly to acknowledge that they let their own economic interests, or their opposition to strong environmental policies, or their belief that we need to be spending far more on the military or some other reason ahead of any commitment to LGBT equality, and on that ground have decided to prefer the anti-LGBT candidate to the supportive one, I would disagree with the values expressed, but would have no complaint about their logic."
"The damaging aspect of the Log Cabin argument, to repeat the most important point," said Frank, "is that they may mislead people who do not share their view that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than LGBT rights into thinking that they are somehow helping the latter by supporting Mitt Romney and his Rick Santorum platform.
"It is a good thing for Republicans to try to influence other Republicans to be supportive of LGBT rights," said Frank. "The problem is when they pretend to be successful when they haven't been, and urge people to join them in rewarding the Republicans when they have in fact continued their anti-LGBT stance. I have been hearing the Log Cabin Republicans proclaim for years that they were improving the view of that party towards our legal equality. In fact, over the past 20 years, things have gotten worse, not better. Most recently, on DOMA, when the House Republicans offered an amendment to reaffirm it, they voted 98% in favor of it, while Democrats voted more than 90% against the amendment. And it is not surprising that they have not been successful. Giving strong political support to people who are maintaining their anti-LGBT stance is hardly an effective strategy for getting them to change it."
There is no question but that the Republican Party at its presidential nominating convention in Tampa presented a carefully coded hostility to gays in the military, gays getting married, and gays being seen as citizens in the constitution. That could be seen as an improvement, if compared with the 1992 GOP convention when keynote speaker Pat Buchanan derided Democrats for allowing a "militant leader of the homosexual rights movement" call the Democratic presidential ticket (Clinton-Gore) the most pro-gay ticket in history. That's the year Buchanan used his high profile speech to declare a religious and cultural war with Republicans on one side and "homosexuals" on the other.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney did not himself make an explicit statement against same-sex marriage or gays. Instead, he said, "I will honor the institution of marriage." But the party's platform and the nominee's surrogates before a national television audience each took thinly veiled jabs at LGBT people whenever they had the chance. Running mate Paul Ryan praised Romney as "Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best." Failed presidential contender Rick Santorum once again railed against what he perceives to be the "assault on marriage."
A New York Times editorial characterized the GOP platform as, "more aggressive in its opposition to women's reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory."
By contrast, the Democratic Party, through its platform and convention speeches, took its strongest stand yet in support of equal rights for LGBT people. In his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, President Obama essentially pushed back against Republican attacks on gays and other groups. He said, "we don't think that government is the source of all our problems — any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles." And he applauded fellow Americans for being part of the change that has ensured that "selfless soldiers won't be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love."
Numerous prime-time Democratic speakers made similarly supportive statements, and First Lady Michelle Obama twice referenced same-sex marriage in her passionate address to the convention. The first mention was a fairly routine reference to the need for people to be able to love who they love.
"Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love."
The second mention was a gutsy juxtaposition that celebrated the courage of same-sex couples who marry with the likes of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and other American heroes.
"If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire, if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores, if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote, if a generation could defeat a depression and define greatness for all time, if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream, and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely," said the First Lady, "surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream."
The speech came on the same night the Democratic Party approved what Democratic LGBT activists say is the most pro-gay platform in history.
Jamie Citron, national LGBT Vote Director for the Obama for America re-election campaign, said in May that the Obama campaign would try to win over gay Republicans. But there is no indication yet that gay Republicans are being won over. And following Frank's "Uncle Tom" remark, they could well be settling into a defensive posture.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republican group, said, in response to Frank's remark, that "Leaders committed to LGBT equality know that every victory our community has achieved has required bipartisan advocacy and bipartisan votes, and winning support from Republicans will only be more important in the days ahead."
Long-time Democratic gay activist David Mixner predicted this week that 75 percent of the LGBT vote will go to President Obama. The significance of that vote in the overall election depends largely on how close the election is, come November 6.
An ABC/Washington Post poll September 7-12 found Obama with a 50 to 44 percent edge over Romney, with a four percent margin of error. A CNN poll September 9-12 found the Obama-Romney race at 52 to 46 percent, with a four-point margin of error. A daily Gallup Poll as of September 12 also showed a 50-44 split, with a three-point margin of error.
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