BY James Kirchick
January 11 2010 10:00 AM ET
That conundrum leaves gay activists in a bind. Many, like those who showed up at the White House ceremony last summer marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, see the DNC as an effective tool that, while hardly perfect, is better than nothing. “The administration is going to continue to make steady progress on our issues whether we help strengthen its hand or not,” says the DNC’s Tobias. “But the stronger it is, the faster that progress will come.” These Democratic partisans acknowledge that the work required of any civil rights struggle is going to be slow and difficult. But rather than attack the party, they say it’s better to support the team that is at least rhetorically supportive.
The other side, which seems to be gaining influence, doesn’t want to play the old-fashioned political game of quid pro quo, which, it argues, is offering little if any value in return for gay people’s historically generous support. “I’m not beating you as hard as the other person” is how Mixner describes this rationale. Party critics often are met with the response that the DNC and the president are focused on more pressing issues like health-care reform and the economy. But a full year into the Obama presidency, and with large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Aravosis calls this explanation “a recipe for never.”
But while able and willing to recite a litany of arguments against the party and why gays should withhold their support, DNC critics are less clear about tangible goals. “Goals? Good question,” Aravosis replies when asked what he hopes to achieve with the boycott. He gestures toward an answer when he says gay activists should adopt the same attitude regarding Democrats as they have with Republicans—and stop being so deferential out of some presumed understanding that one party is better than the other on gay issues. “The damage to the party brand has been significant” over the past year, he says, and the Democrats’ reputation as the benevolent crusader for gay rights no longer holds sway in the minds of as many gays as it once did. But when I offer the explanation that the gay campaign against the DNC may have the effect of a “death by a thousand cuts,” irreparably damaging the decades-long ties between the Democratic Party and the gay rights movement, Aravosis delights at the analogy. “We’re just saying we’re going to take you down with us,” he says. “We’re going to blow this up and it’s going to hurt you too.”
Where will all this public frustration lead? Are gay people simply too small of a minority—maybe just 5% of the population—to have a major effect on American politics? “As a practical matter, nobody in the White House is thinking, Oh, my God, the gay money is going to be shut off, even if it were 100% effective,” says one prominent LGBT supporter of the Obama administration.
Mixner and company remain defiant—whatever the consequences. “The goal is freedom,” he says, “And we have to go get it. They’re not going to give it to us. Instead of pumping money into the Democratic Party right now, we should be pumping money into our struggle for civil rights. Lobbying Washington. Challenging state ballot initiatives. Engaging in civil disobedience…. There’s no one right way.”