Coalition Building in South Carolina

Susie Prueter and other LGBT activists in South Carolina have been building up their relationship with the state Democratic Party. One major breakthrough came during the CNN/YouTube debate in Charleston last summer. Check out our pre-primary blogging about the intersection of race and LGBT issues in S.C.

BY Kerry Eleveld

January 25 2008 1:00 AM ET

One of the
brighter spots of the LGBT political work being done in
South Carolina has been the community's evolving
relationship with the state Democratic Party.

Susie Prueter,
the former president of AFFA (Alliance For Full Acceptance
-- one of South Carolina's LGBT rights organizations)
from 2004 to 2007, said she and other gay activists
decided around 2005 that they simply had to get
involved in other causes besides their own -- from the
NAACP to Planned Parenthood to the Democratic Party.
"There's a great Woody Allen quote that 90% of life is
simply showing up," says Prueter. "We just started
showing up."

But before making
real gains, the community suffered one major setback.
During their 2006 marriage amendment fight, they managed to
get a resolution included on the state party platform
stating that the Democratic Party opposed the marriage
amendment (passing this resolution would have helped
to ensure that Democratic members of the legislature
would have to vote against the amendment). But just before
passing the entire platform, the party leadership
added a last-minute caveat that Democratic legislators
didn't necessarily have to support the platform
(meaning they could vote in favor of the marriage amendment
even though the party platform opposed it).

"It happened in
the blink of an eye," says Prueter, adding that no
debate on the caveat was allowed. Even after that blow, the
community kept showing up. "We just tried to stay
positive. We wanted to make sure that the GLBT
community was active in the political process, to show
that we want to grow the Democratic Party, that we aren't
just a single-issue constituency, and that we are a
valuable part of the party," says Prueter.

The biggest
breakthrough came when gay folks volunteered in droves to
help organize and register people for the CNN/YouTube debate
held last July at the Citadel in Charleston. "I bet
75% of the people who were manning [the registration]
process were members of the community," says Warren
Redman-Gress, the current executive director of AFFA and a
founding board member.

That effort
prompted Carol Fowler, the state Democratic Party chair, to
publicly thank the LGBT community for its help during the
preamble to the televised debate. In fact, according
to Redman-Gress, her opening remarks included, "We are
here tonight -- young and old, black and white, rich
and poor, gay and straight..." That may sound pretty tame to
urbanites, but this debate was being held at the Citadel, a
public military college that was forced by the courts
to start accepting women in 1995 (the lawsuit inspired
"Save the Males" bumper stickers to spring up all over
city). The significance of Fowler's comments wasn't
lost on Redman-Gress. "It blew me away," he says.

"Just a couple
years ago, no one even wanted to talk about gay people
being citizens of South Carolina," adds Prueter, who
approached Fowler after the debate to thank her for
including the community in her "remarks."

Prueter recalls
that Fowler responded, "Susie, I'm including you in my

The proof is in
the pudding, and this year the party voted to send three
LGBT delegates out of 54 total to represent South Carolina
at the national convention. That's three more openly
gay representatives than have ever gone before.

Tags: Politics