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Did Hillary Clinton Quash the LGBT Backlash Over Harsh Email?

Did Hillary Clinton Quash the LGBT Backlash Over Harsh Email?

Hillary Clinton

While secretary of State, Hillary Clinton sent an email that had some LGBT activists concerned.


Hillary Clinton's speech on Saturday was a welcomed laundry list of promises to LGBT voters who she's wooing for her presidential campaign, but it might also have reassured them about any lingering doubt that she's truly their ally.

The speech before volunteers at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., comes at the end of a week when a newly released email shows Clinton once castigated her staff at the State Department for moving too quickly on LGBT equality. And that email was beginning to set off backlash that characterized Clinton as a weak ally.

In the email in question, revealed as part of the investigation over her private email server, Clinton demanded the name of whoever decided to substitute "Mother" and "Father" on State Department passport forms with "Parent One" and "Parent Two." The change in nomenclature was quickly dropped after Clinton inquired. But it's the tone of her email that really raised eyebrows.

"Who made the decision that State will not use the terms 'mother and father' and instead substitute 'parent one and two'?" Clinton wrote to her assistant, Cheryl Mills. "I'm not defending that decision, which I disagree w and knew nothing about, in front of this Congress. I could live w letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father. We need to address this today or we will be facing a huge Fox-generated media storm led by Palin et al."

To get a sense of what was happening among the grassroots before the speech, here's a selection of reactions to Clinton's email.

In a column for the Huffington Post, "Hillary Clinton Can Maybe, Barely, Tolerate Your Family," health policy attorney Corey Prachniak -- who is also chair of LGBT Health Link's steering committee -- wrote:

"Yet in what she thought was the privacy of this newly-released email, Clinton sounds a lot less like an advocate. Stating that she "is not defending that decision" and did not agree with making the form gender-neutral, Clinton allowed that she "could live [with] letting people in nontraditional families choose a descriptor so long as we retained a presumption of mother and father." The idea that Clinton could barely live with recognition of households that do not have two opposite-sex parents is jarring enough. Even worse is her notion that maintaining heteronormative families as the ideal, and making sure others knew they were second-rate, was somehow doing them a favor....

"What Clinton does not get is that being an advocate, or even simply an ally, means more than begrudgingly taking down the "do not enter" signs on society's institutions. It means actually helping to hold the door open and let people in."

Writing for Slate, Mark Joseph Stern warned that "Hillary Clinton's Email About Gay Parents Should Seriously Trouble Her LGBT Supporters." Here's why:

"It's easy to sympathize with Clinton's concern about a conservative media maelstrom and insist that, at most, Clinton displayed cowardice, not animus. Four years ago, defending LGBT rights was still a somewhat risky proposition; even President Barack Obama was still too timorous to say that gay Americans should be afforded their constitutional right to marry. But if Clinton was only nervous about political blowback, her choice of words is curious. Why note that she "disagree[d]" with the decision? Why say--hesitantly, almost begrudgingly--that she "could live" with letting gay parents use a gender-neutral form?

"Clinton's decidedly non-inclusive language might be forgivable if she had a sterling track record on LGBT rights. She doesn't. Clinton only came out for marriage equality in 2013, in what the Economist dubbed a "farcically late conversion." Even then, she seemed to endorse the Dick Cheney position that states should be allowed to decide whether or not to deprive gay people of their fundamental right to wed. A painful interview with NPR's Terry Gross only aggravated matters, as Clinton tried to claim that a federal gay marriage ban somehow granted states the right to recognize same-sex unions. (The act, signed into law by her husband, actually impeded states' efforts to legalize gay marriage, which the Supreme Court recognized when striking it down.)"

And then there was the notion that Clinton doesn't "get it," a phrase she specifically used to assure the HRC audience on Saturday. Anthony Infanti wrote, for the Huffington Post, "What Hillary Clinton Does Not Get About Being a Gay Dad:"

"What Clinton does not seem to get is that we still live in an overwhelmingly heteronormative world and are always already surrounded by the presumption of mother and father. As a gay dad, I get a unique experience of this world by not just being part of a family headed by a same-sex couple but also by breaking the stereotype that only women are nurturing enough to raise children.

"Yes, it really is frustrating to constantly have to cross out 'mother' and 'father' on the forms that you fill out....

"What Clinton really missed when she expressed her disagreement and dismay in that email is that on the rare occasion when an individual, or here a government agency, makes your life a little easier by not assuming that you are part of the hetero norm just because you have a child, it feels like just a little bit of weight has been lifted off of your shoulders."

In Clinton's speech at the HRC, she specifically called out discrimination against same-sex parents as one of many remaining things to do. She pledged to defund any local agency that refused to serve same-sex couples in foster care or adoption.

(Watch the complete speech)

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Lucas Grindley

Lucas Grindley is VP and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is parent company to The Advocate. His Twitter account is filled with politics, Philip Glass appreciation, and adorable photos of his twin toddler daughters.
Lucas Grindley is VP and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is parent company to The Advocate. His Twitter account is filled with politics, Philip Glass appreciation, and adorable photos of his twin toddler daughters.