By Neal Broverman
Originally published on Advocate.com August 23 2013 8:00 AM ET
You’ve seen them — if not in real life, then in the pseudo-reality that is your Facebook feed: the digital pins of Hillary Clinton that declare support for her 2016 presidential bid. We thought we could get a couple years off from defriending people over their political affiliations and return to the important business of Vine videos and Buzzfeed lists, but Hillary mucks it up for everyone. It’s not her fault, of course; she hasn’t even announced she’s running yet. It’s her fangirls and boys, excited at the possibility of America’s first female president, especially one as capable, brilliant, and poised as Mrs. Clinton.
Even if Hillary wasn’t the most eligible candidate, the time for a female U.S. president is long overdue. We might cringe at calling Bill the first fella and wonder if Hillary will cover her head when she meets with Middle Eastern leaders, but we’ll figure those details out — in today’s world of women CEOs and senators, it should be a seamless transition from Mister President to Madame.
Less natural-feeling is the idea of a gay leader of the free world. The idea feels laughable, and not because it’s easy to imagine pictures surfacing of this make-believe leader snuffing amyl nitrate in Fire Island or lifting her shirt at Dinah Shore Weekend. It’s America, not the potential candidate, that’s too embarrassing to allow a gay president to get elected now.
It’s almost a certainty that any LGBT candidate for president, in 2016 or the next few election cycles, would lose the entire South. The recent words of city officials in San Antonio, which surfaced thanks to secret recordings, reveal unbelievably ignorant ideas about gay people and remind us how lowly we remain in so many minds. Pissing all over a proposed antidiscrimination ordinance for her city, Councilwoman Elisa Chan called gays “disgusting” and said we’re not good enough to raise children. A Neanderthal city official went on a tirade about marriage equality leading to legalized incest (how original). This didn’t happen in Podunk or the town in Lil’ Abner: San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the U.S. and Texas’s second-largest metropolis.
But what a difference 200 miles makes: The Lone Star State’s biggest city, Houston, elected a lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, twice. While there are certainly equality-minded people in San Antonio and throughout the South, places like Houston will likely be the exception to the intolerant rule for decades to come.
An LGBT president will be truly viable when a lopsided majority of America's elected officials and, more importantly, their consitutents no longer believe gays are unworthy of protection or they're sick individuals leading to society’s downfall. It also means that even in the most progressive of places, LGBT people aren’t systematically targeted for violence and shot dead in the street, as has been the case in New York City this year. It means that actors like Wentworth Miller can come out when they’re doing interviews for their water cooler-worthy new show, not four years after it’s been canceled.
The homophobia that courses through daily American life remains insidious, even with equality in the military and same-sex marriage in 13 states. Is it presumptuous to think that an out president could change that, even if they managed to get elected? Some LGBT New Yorkers, including actress Cynthia Nixon, don’t believe having a gay (and female) leader of America’s largest city is a consideration worthy of swaying their vote, and are stumping for Bill de Blasio instead of out City Council speaker Christine Quinn. That’s their prerogative, of course, but as mentioned before, New York is not beyond LGBT considerations and concerns. You can’t minimize the importance of having a member of our team making the big decisions, says Chuck Wolfe, the president and CEO of the Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBT candidates. Places with the largest groups of out lawmakers are the ones “passing marriage equality bills, but also working to protect transgender people, curb bullying in schools, and make sure health insurers cover the unique needs of LGBT people,” he points out.
Of course, Barack Obama isn’t gay and he helped usher in a new era for us, one where we can serve openly in the military and not be stripped of our savings when our partner dies. But would passing a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act be more of a priority if Michelle was Michael? If Obama was fired for putting a picture of his family on his desk, could he accept the inequality faced by gay people in 29 states?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and as author Linda Hirshman writes in her book Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution, LGBT people have made more strides in less time than any other minority group in American history. But excuse me for being impatient and wanting to stick it to people like Elisa Chan who think we “disgusting” folk are unworthy of running the nation she calls home.
It’ll be at least two decades, or five election cycles, for an out president to be a possibility, Wolfe says. “It’s also important to remember we almost always elect presidents with families,” he says. “Out politicians are just now getting started on this front.”
That’s a funny thought: Our society maligns single people even more than LGBT people. So, if you’re an unattached gay, you don’t have a shot in hell of redesigning the West Wing. Young queer politicos: Get on OKCupid, pronto.
NEAL BROVERMAN is a columnist for The Advocate and the editor in chief of Out Traveler. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman.