Let’s Get Visible

More than 250 delegates to this week’s Democratic National Convention, just under six percent of the total, identified themselves as gay, lesbian or transgendered.

Yet, as LGBT delegates were told over and over again, no signs or placards identifying their support for specific queer rights goals were allowed on the convention floor.

In fairness, it should be noted that Sen. John Kerry’s campaign kept a very tight lid on all messages broadcast to the nation from Boston’s Fleet Center. The only signs visible on TV were those approved for particular time slots—NY LOVES HILLARY and NEW YORK LOVES BILL during the New York senator and former president’s hour on Monday night, or ILLINOIS LOVES BARACK, during U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama’s electrifying keynote address Tuesday night, for example.

Still, reports from the convention’s first three days indicate that most of the gay passion in Boston was reserved for events off the convention floor. Occasionally, a television viewer could spy a rainbow, Dr. Seuss-style hat on the floor, but among the major speakers the first several days, only Obama and New York’s Al Sharpton made specific mention of gay and lesbian Americans.

Tammy Baldwin, the lesbian congresswoman from Wisconsin who co-chaired the convention, had a speaking role, but did not discuss LGBT issues. Cheryl Jacques, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), gave a short speech early Wednesday evening in which she defined our community broadly—as “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender”—and pointed to our drive for “marriage equality.” Still, in deference to the prevailing political climate, Jacques also spent considerable energy emphasizing that our community is, in essence, made up of many very good soldiers.

The party’s platform, banged out weeks in advance of the convention with the explicit understanding that there would be no minority planks or floor motions in Boston, offered a general show of support of gay families and specifically attacked the Federal Marriage Amendment supported by Pres. George W. Bush, but dodged the thorny issue of same-sex marriage, not to mention transgender rights.

A solid, unified front is a smart—and undoubtedly necessary—strategy for the Democrats, and deferral on issues where consensus has not yet been achieved is forgivable given the pressing need to get Bush out of the White House.

There is a risk, however, that the message coming out of Boston and the Kerry campaign generally might be so homogenized that it will lose its ability to pull out the vote come November. Many voters are highly motivated by their antipathy to the incumbent, but they are also driven by other concerns—in some cases, alarm over the war in Iraq; in others, the deterioration in job security in America; and for many of us, our demand for full equality.

Kerry and his LGBT supporters must not make the mistake of working so hard to dodge traps set by the right wing, that they forget the basic aspirations of their core supporters. In that regard, HRC’s decision to jettison Margaret Cho from its convention gala over fear that she would say something outrageous seems to play into the minor cultural jihad stirred recently by the right that has already snared Whoopi Goldberg and Linda Ronstadt.

If LGBT leaders want to ensure that our concerns are heard in the inner reaches of the Kerry campaign and that our community turns out in numbers that will prove that we can be pivotal in toppling Bush, we all need to be a whole lot more visible in the months to come.

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