Obama's troops have been making a push in the LGBT
communities of both Ohio and Texas to cut into Hillary
Clinton's long-standing support among gays and
lesbians before Tuesday's critical primary vote.
was to really deputize the members of our steering committee
to organize our community in the major metropolitan
areas of those states," said Eric Stern, an
Edwards-turned-Obama supporter who has been overseeing
LGBT field organizing in Ohio and Texas for the Obama
campaign. Polls show the two candidates in a statistical
dead heat in Texas, while Clinton has anywhere from 5-
to 10-point edge in Ohio.
strategy to the Bush/Cheney get-out-the-vote efforts in
Ohio in 2004, Stern said the Obama camp has identified local
LGBT folks to work gayborhoods such as Montrose in
Houston and the Short North in Columbus.
did, that we're now doing, was they deputized local
people to go door-to-door and serve as precinct
captains, while the Kerry campaign was sending people
from out of state into Ohio to run the ground game,"
he said, adding that he believes that's why the
Democrats lost the Buckeye State in 2004.
"Ultimately, if you're talking to an undecided
voter, if you're their neighbor down the street,
they're more likely to listen to your argument
and be persuaded by it. We've learned from
But just as
quickly as Obama has been striking, Clinton has been
swinging back. No sooner had his campaign secured
four full-page ads in four separate gay weeklies in
Dallas, Houston, Columbus, and Cleveland, than she had
conducted a conference call with reporters from three of the
same weeklies. The Clinton camp also announced the
formation of a 38-member LGBT steering committee in
Ohio last week.
And in Houston
- which has the 10th largest gay population in the
nation - after the city's nonpartisan GLBT
caucus endorsed Obama last week, Clinton spent 20
minutes of her Friday evening answering questions from
the Houston Stonewall Democrats, who endorsed her on
"It's an exciting time down here in Texas, the
most exciting in my lifetime," said 45-year-old
Teresa Herrin, president of Houston's Stonewall
chapter, her voice cracking from the strain of too much
politicking. Herrin said they extended an offer to both
candidates to speak with their five-member executive
board but that the Obama campaign finally declined the
offer at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning.
our members is a strong Obama supporter, so it was really
disappointing," Herrin said.
In terms of the
Clinton call, Herrin added, "What really surprised us
was her passion - that she understood the
immediate need for our community."
Within the first
100 days of her presidency, Herrin said, Clinton
promised to extend benefits to all same-sex couples who work
for the federal government with an executive order,
end "don't ask, don't tell,"
and use the bully pulpit to advocate for a fully inclusive
ENDA and a fully inclusive hate-crimes bill. (Herrin
and her executive board were not clear how Sen.
Clinton would end "don't ask, don't
tell" - if by executive order or some
discussed how adamant she is about allowing everyone in
America to adopt children if they are a qualified couple.
"It was like she was indignant," Herrin
said of Clinton's manner while talking about
same-sex couples' adoption rights. "Her voice
just really changed, and that was the part that
surprised us - her passion."
On the Obama
side, Randall Ellis, chairman of the senator's Texas
LGBT steering committee, is equally as enthused.
"As Texans, we're used to being told,
'This is your nominee, this is who you need to
support,'" said Ellis, who was quietly
backing John Edwards until he dropped out of the race.
"People here aren't used to being asked the
question, 'Who are you supporting in the
primaries?' We really don't know what hit us
- all the sudden we're a campaign
When the Obama
campaign came knocking, Ellis, 38, was already engaged in
reelection campaigns for two of the LGBT community's
"biggest allies" in the Texas state
legislature, Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar.
"They're often vulnerable because they take
stances on LGBT issues, and so people challenge them
in primaries," Ellis explained.
Ellis weighed his
options for a couple weeks and ultimately decided to go
with Obama, partly because of his stance for full repeal of
the Defense of Marriage Act (Clinton supports partial
repeal), but there was something more.
"It's that certain je ne sais
quoi," Ellis said. "The people that
you look at as a leader need to give you that sense of
inspiration and hope, and that certainly is evident in the
Obama campaign. People play that off like it
doesn't mean anything. But I think it means a
people this weekend to canvass in the Montrose
neighborhood of Houston. According to estimates by
demographer Gary Gates at the Williams Institute, that
zip code, 77006, has a GLB population density of about
eight times the national average - almost exactly the
same density as New York's Chelsea district, while
San Francisco's Castro holds about 20 times the
After meeting up
Saturday at the Starbucks on Montrose Blvd., the
uniformed Obama volunteers dispersed to cafes, bars, and
street corners, initiating one-on-one discussions and
asking passers-by: Are you voting for Obama? Are you
going to caucus? Have you told your friends?
Rebekah Lee, a
volunteer from Bellingham, Wash., employed technology to
give on-the-fence-voters a reason to consider Obama -
using her cell phone, she pulled up a copy of
Obama's recent open letter to the GLBT
community posted on Bilerico.com. "I really believe
in Barack for our time," said Lee.
"He's not afraid to answer a question with an
'I don't know' or give you the
tough answer. I can tell Barack wants the office to be
able to serve people."
And just as
Montrose was on fire with activity, so was the Short North
in Columbus, where a gallery hop that attracts
thousands of people ensues the first Saturday of every
month. According to locals, Columbus has the
second-largest Pride celebration in the Midwest behind
Mary Jo Hudson, a
Clinton supporter and the highest-ranking LGBT official
in the state as a member of the governor's cabinet,
headed over to the gallery hop with a crew of folks
armed with buttons and stickers. "That's
something we do in Columbus whenever we're doing
outreach in campaigns," she said.
Hudson, 46, also
had about 70 people over to her house on Saturday night
for a rally with three Clinton surrogates: Randi Weingarten,
president of the United Federation of Teachers;
California state representative Laura Richardson; and
Brenda Berkman, the first female firefighter in New York
long-time Clinton ally who served on the Human Rights
Campaign's Board in the '90s, said she reminds
people that "from day one, the office of the
first lady was very inclusive and how she was an
outspoken advocate on inclusion and equality and stood up
for the LGBT community against the far right."
The Obama camp
also had a presence at the gallery hop and, for the most
part, Hudson said the back and forth between the campaigns
in Ohio has been collegial. "That's how
we do things here in Columbus," she said.
"But when we move to the general election -
when that finally happens - it will be
important for national leadership to make sure we're
all pulling together, because I've never seen
anything quite like this, with the two sets of strong
feelings out there."
Cleveland-based Jason Lansdale felt as he was assembling
people to sign on to an op-ed in support of Obama to
be run in Ohio's LGBT newspapers. "Just
the energy and the passion," he said.
"Obviously we wanted as many signatures as
possible. We went from five or six key leaders in Ohio
to almost 60 overnight. I was really surprised."
Altogether, 53 LGBT leaders signed on to the letter, which
is currently running in this week's issue of
Outlook Weekly in Columbus.
typifies the on-the-ground warrior that Eric Stern was
looking to enlist in the Obama campaign. He's lived
in every corner of the state, is a former president of
the Stonewall Democrats chapter of Central Ohio in
Columbus, cochaired the LGBT campaign in Ohio for
Kerry/Edwards in '04, and was the LGBT coordinator
for Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's current secretary
that Ohio has five distinct regions. "The
[Cleveland] Plain Dealer did a piece leading up
to the 2004 elections called 'The Five
Ohios' - those being the Northwest, Northeast,
Southwest, Southeast, and Central Ohio - about
how really different they are culturally and
For instance, the
Southwest is pretty strongly Republican with lots of
evangelicals and an Air Force base in Dayton; central Ohio
used to tilt toward the GOP but in the last couple
presidential cycles, Columbus and Franklin counties
have gone Democratic (housing Ohio State University
with 50,000 students doesn't hurt); and the Northeast
with cities like Cleveland and Akron has been a
bastion of the Democratic base. It's a glimpse
of the challenge both campaigns faced in reaching vastly
different voters across both Ohio and Texas. Obama has
reportedly outspent Clinton on advertising at least
two-to-one in both states.
One of the
big-selling points on Obama for Lansdale was hearing him
reference the LGBT community and homophobia in a number of
his speeches. "Obama includes the LGBT
community in his core message -- he's not
afraid to say the words gay and
lesbian," he says. "I'm not
questioning Hillary's support - she has
a wonderful track record of support on our issues, but
you don't see her use the word gay very
represented Obama as a surrogate during one of three LGBT
forums organized by the National Stonewall Democrats
in Cleveland, Dallas, and Houston last week. All three
events drew around 100 people or more, according to
Stonewall's executive director, Jon Hoadley.
on a Monday or Tuesday," Hoadley said of the
attendance. "People were there and excited
about being Democrats - that's such a sea
change from what we've been seeing in the
both the Houston and Dallas forums and said one of the
most interesting things at the events was the line of
the top LGBT policy advisers from both the Clinton and Obama
campaigns, and what was the first question out the gate?
Health care," recounted Hoadley, adding that
the discussions around immigration and the alternative
minimum tax were as robust as those around
"don't ask, don't tell"
and civil unions. "People were looking for real
policy answers on a whole host of subjects. We even
got to stump them sometimes."
president of the Dallas Stonewall Democrats chapter, also
attended the Dallas forum. "I love that our community
was able to think outside our own self interests
- we're just like any other American,
we're worried about the future of America and our
standing in the world."
a message that Garcia, who is a fervent Clinton supporter,
has been advancing with his members as well. "I
keep reminding everyone, regardless of their
presidential choice, this a great opportunity to be
introducing yourself and saying 'Hey, I'm a
gay Democrat and let's see how we can work
together to fix this nation,'" said Garcia.
"I think it's important that we start
sensitizing other Democrats - because there's
good Democrats and there's so-so Democrats on our
Stonewall chapter, which endorsed Sen. Clinton, is the
largest dues-paying Democratic club in Dallas, with
about 350 members. Garcia, 36, who joined the club in
2000 when it stood at around 80 members, said the
club's size is a direct result of the fact that the
LGBT community suffers continuous attacks in Texas.
congressmen who introduce antigay legislation, so
we're always on the defensive and ready to
mobilize," he said.
Garcia is also
sort of a "double threat," as he puts it, as
both a gay and a Hispanic rights activist. He's
been working to build a bridge between the two
communities and helped found the first predominately gay
chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (or
LULAC), which he calls "the Hispanic version of
people that came after us on banning same-sex marriage
turned around and reformed and are now going after
immigrants," said Garcia. "It's
all about learning from each other's communities and
sharing common interests."