Op-ed: Beware of Supporting Candidates Just Because They're Gay
“It’s been 20 years since New York has had a Democratic mayor.”
“Huh, what? Wow. That’s actually true,” I say to my friend, shocked for a second at the realization.
We’re at the LGBT mayoral candidates’ forum in New York City on Wednesday night. It’s a big room packed to capacity. Exciting stuff.
What’s more exciting — I’m sure you’ve heard — is that one of the candidates (arguably the favorite) is herself one of “us,” an out gay person. If elected, she would be the first female and gay mayor of New York. Who wouldn’t root for that? I sure do.
The debate is a typical Democratic primary forum. The candidates aren’t all that far apart ideologically speaking. And at some point, each has a “Yeah, exactly!” moment.
My take is that two candidates dominate the forum. Both of them deliver strong, “mayoral” showings. Though for the time being, permit me to withhold their identities so we might consider their positions and statements without preference.
Candidate A lands some solid answers on homeless LGBT youth, citing a bunch of specific ideas and programs. A then later scores (in my book) with an awesome “separation of church and state” answer on the still-brewing controversy over religious organizations using public schools.
Candidate B then nails it with answers on development with the crowd-winning line, “Luxury housing … doesn’t reflect the values of New Yorkers."
And then there’s the early discussion of a hot topic in New York these days: the paid sick-leave bill that’s been stalled in the City Council for three years now. San Francisco’s got one, Philly just passed one. It’s a slam dunk liberal/progressive issue, and a supermajority of the City Council supports it. And this is a Democratic primary debate, after all. So where were they on this?
Candidate A doesn’t support the bill in its “current formation,” fearing its deleterious effects on small businesses, and says we should wait until better economic times before offering paid sick leave to New Yorkers.
Candidate B says “the bill deserves a vote,” that “I’m not going say some New Yorkers get a right and some don’t,” and “during the Depression we didn’t tell people ‘Let’s wait [on the New Deal] till the economy gets better.’” Cheers from the audience.
So. Which do you like better? Which — and here’s where I get to my point; something that’s been starting to really nag me of late — can you tell which one of them is gay? Does it matter?
If you hated or loved A’s or B’s position on the sick-leave issue, the development issue, the homelessness issue, would it matter if he/she were gay? Would that assuage or even eclipse your pain on areas of disagreement?
Yes, all things being equal I want my city to have an L, G, B, T, Q, or poz mayor. And maybe I admit being gay would give him/her a little boost, a special consideration deep down. But would those identity politics trump one important issue that I felt another candidate was stronger on? How about two or three?
I liked things they both said (and some things Bill Thompson, John Liu, and Sal Albanese said), but I couldn’t help wondering if, say, Bill de Blasio were also gay, would Speaker Quinn get as much of the LGBT support she is obviously getting? I’m honestly not that happy with the answer that I suspect.
There were times when I felt Quinn was strong but only in the way that polished (and accomplished) politicians are — often not saying much but repeating canned lines and talking points. Hers last night was “We need a holistic approach.” She said it at least three times. Which is kind of like saying “We need smarter government” or “I need yummier food and cheaper alcohol!” Duh. Well, her simply being gay is kind of like that. OK, great! Now tell me more!
To be clear, I’m not saying Quinn is not, in fact, the better candidate. She may indeed be. I am saying that it’s apparent to anyone that her simply being LGBT is garnering her a lot of automatic support from LGBT New Yorkers. Many (I’ve been asking) say they’re for Quinn because she’s gay. Many of those have no idea of any of the other candidates’ positions.
To be sure, these aren’t new questions for historically marginalized groups to grapple with. But they are new to us. Maybe this is a just luxury problem. that we just haven’t had to deal with until now. Boo-hoo, gays, we’ve arrived. Our real and natural differences are now more free to surface. Deal.
But it gets a little more complicated yet. What if gay support or gay-friendly positions — be they merely purported or real — are just something a smoke screen? A smoke screen meant to obscure (or even pinkwash) some other crappy stuff as a cynical effort to gain LGBT support or look less out of touch or reactionary.
I’m not talking about Christine Quinn. Does anyone believe that it took Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio two years after his son came out to him to come to his position of favoring marriage equality? That his change of heart coincidentally came after his party lost the presidential race and is starting to be perceived as an American Taliban? That it just happened to come and be announced a few days before the Supreme Court hears arguments on the two big marriage equality cases — as in, to mix metaphors: “The ship is about sail; lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
No. it’s a calculated political move.
You don’t get extra credit for doing the right thing. You get a “thanks for finally waking up.” And you certainly don’t get a pass for all the other nasty policies you have put forth and continue to espouse. It behooves us to remember that. Just like it behooves us to choose the best candidate regardless of his or her being gay. I just hope we can.
JIM MORRISON is host of HereTV's political talk show For & Against. New episodes premiere this coming week.