Two Conventions, Two Messages

In a 1999 interview, then Gov. George W. Bush, responded to a question about tolerance toward groups that face discrimination, including gay men and lesbians, by saying: “I think that each person ought to be judged by their heart and by their soul and by their contribution to society. Group-thought will ‘Balkanize’ our society, and I have rejected the politics of pitting one group of personas against another.”

It is hard to imagine that so much can change so quickly. That change was reflected in a Republican National Convention grounded in “group-thought” and a political calculation pitting Americans against each other.

The contrast between the two party conventions could not have been starker; a contrast that showed itself long before the conventions were formally convened.

In its work leading up to the convention, the Democratic platform committee set forth a statement of principles endorsing inclusion and condemning discrimination. Those principles were reflected at the convention by the participation of Americans from all walks of life, including gays and lesbians. I was honored when the Democratic National Committee named me the first out gay or lesbian vice chair of any national political party convention.

Sen. John Kerry, recognizing that gay and lesbian Americans care about the same issues that all Americans are concerned with—health care, jobs, quality education and a clean environment, asked me to deliver opening night remarks on the issue of health care. The symbolism of the moment was not lost on me. That night, standing on the shoulders of gays and lesbians throughout America, I spoke to all Americans of our common concern.

Anyone watching the convention could see a true picture of the “face of America.” Delegates included small business owners and workers, young and old and people of all social, financial, religious and ethnic backgrounds; as well as many from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. A sign of the home that our community has found in the Democratic Party could be seen in the extraordinary turnout for the LGBT caucus… more than 300 conventioneers gathered to celebrate our active role in the party.

Americans watching the convention received a clear message that all are welcome in the Democratic Party, and that John Kerry values each and every American.

The spirit at the GOP convention was quite different. In an atmosphere of “group-thought” and a climate hostile to the LGBT community, the Republican platform committee—filled with representatives from extremist organizations—rejected the efforts of the Log Cabin Republicans and their supporters to include this unity plank in their platform:

“We recognize and respect that Republicans of good faith may not agree with all the planks in the party’s platform. This is particularly the case with regard to those planks dealing with abortion, family planning, and gay and lesbian issues. The Republican Party welcomes all people on all sides of these complex issues and encourages their active participation as we work together on those issues upon which we agree.”

That simple statement of inclusion was rejected for platform language that conservative columnist Robert Novak reported was “dictated by Bush.”

For four nights, the GOP that used to say it had a “big tent” decried dissent on the war, and challenged the patriotism of every American who has spoken out against the actions of the Bush administration.

Its continued references to September 11 never mentioned the extraordinary sacrifices of gay and lesbian Americans during that national crisis, from New York Fire Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge, to Carol Flyzik and Mark Bingham, and so many more. Many of these victims left behind longtime partners and families that sacrificed as well. Yet, instead of recognizing the value of those relationships, the president chose to use his convention speech to equate respect for LGBT families with a threat to the institution of marriage.

One American who felt quite at home at the convention was conservative columnist and Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes, who was quick to label the vice president’s daughter a “selfish hedonist” in an interview with Michelangelo Signorile, rhetoric that President Bush declined to condemn. Is it any wonder that Mary Cheney decided not to join her family on stage?

As her father and George W. Bush launched their campaign, they made it clear to all Americans that theirs was a party of division and hostility.

John Kerry and John Edwards welcomed all to join them. They are proud to stand with all of us.

The choice for the LGBT community has often been clear, but never before have the stakes been so high.

Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian, is the Democratic U.S. representative from Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District, encompassing the state capital, Madison, and surrounding suburban and rural areas.

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