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What we need is a gay politician

A CommentaryA Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

May 18th, 2011

The disappointment in Rhode Island illustrates one of the problems that our community has in trying to achieve our goals of equality and fairness: legislators who are gay do not represent our community.

My congressional district is majority Hispanic. And they have elected a Hispanic congressman whom they expect to represent them and to look after their specific interests. My congressman came out of the Hispanic community, first established his name there, and gradually proved himself and gained the respect and support of his community. He does have other interests and agenda, but he knows his base and he knows that if he fails to represent his community’s interests then they’ll replace him with someone who will.

This is a typical pattern for minority communities and minority representation.

But it is not at all typical of politicians who are gay. Take, for example, Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (AP):

“I believe they have a higher expectation of me,” Fox said, because of his sexual orientation. “I think it’s also people that want this badly, that may not understand the process as much. … When they say ‘Oh we’ve now got a gay speaker of the House, now anything is possible.’”

Fox, 49, has served in the legislature for nearly 20 years and came out in 2004 while addressing a gay marriage rally. But he seldom talks publicly about his sexual orientation.

Fox did not come out of the community and does not represent the community. Fox came out of the closet.

To Gordon Fox, the gay community is “they”, a group of people with whom he decided to associate in his 40′s. Fox has made his political career despite his orientation, by keeping it unspoken, by seeing it as a liability.

I do believe Gordon Fox when he says that he is disappointed. I believe him when he says that he wants to achieve marriage equality. But for Rep. Fox, gay rights are not and never will be his highest priority. He will never be willing to give up other issues, pay the political capital, or make our community’s needs his only agenda.

Because Gordon Fox owes us nothing. We did not create him or empower him or elect him to represent us. His loyalty is to a party structure, to his district, and to his fellow legislators who gave him his position. He would like to help us, but not at the cost of those to whom he owes his success.

I appreciate those politicians who are come out; I really do. I recognize that they are more receptive to our issues, that they can experience some sense of kinship. But they are allies, not representatives of our community.

And what our community needs at this time is not more politicians who are gay. What we really need now is a gay politician.

Comments

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Lindoro Almaviva
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

Good point.

tim
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

Once again Kincaid I have absolutely no idea what the hell you are talking about.

A politician has to balance many interests. Someone who only focuses on one issue won’t be a politician for very long let alone speaker. The political process takes time.

And what our community needs at this time is not more politicians who are gay. What we really need now is a gay politician.

That has got to be the single stupidest statement I’ve seen all year. A speaker who is gay is much more valuable to our community than a gay legislature who can’t get anything passed.

Matt
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

I’m not sure that a pure identity-politics candidate would have a big enough base of support anywhere in the U.S. other than a place like San Francisco. Gay people are (thankfully) not segregated enough from the rest of the population. That’s a good thing. The Hispanic candidate you refer to may be a great guy and a great politician, but I don’t think we want the kind of geographic isolation/separate communities that are a necessary ingredient for identity-politics candidates. One of our strengths in the movement for equal rights is the fact that we are everywhere and a part of everyone’s families and communities.

Jarred
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

You raise a good point, but is it feasible? As you noted, other minorities are represented because they make up a given candidate’s base, the people who got that candidate elected. Is there a congressional district — even in states that have gay mecca’s — where LGBT voters make a sufficient base to get someone elected? I have my doubts. Maybe if we include straight allies…

But then, even such a district existed, you’d have to get enough LGBT people (and allies) to vote for that particular candidate. Given there are plenty of us (myself included) who would consider a candidate’s position on certain other issues sufficient reason to reject them no matter how LGBT-friendly that candidate is, I think it would be a tough proposition.

Sir Andrew
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

I had a great deal to say about this, but Tim, you’ve made my points for me. Kinkaid, you are ignoring the realities of politics as well as the nature of the responsibility of the elected official.

Because ours is a representative government, an elected official represents all of the constituents, not just the ones who voted for him or just the ones he shares a characteristic with, such as being gay, or black, or a woman, or hispanic or any other of a broad range if identities.

We can hope that a gay politician won’t actively oppose things that benefit our community, or promote things that hurt us, but s/he still has to act for the benefit of all the citizens.

Pender
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

Disagree. I’ll take Sen. Gillibrand over any gay politician any day of the week, because she’s extremely pro-equality and extremely effective at her job. That’s what it’s about — not identity politics.

Ben In Oakland
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy, i agree iwth you 100%.

The only reason people like fox get elected at all is becuase of the strides our community has made. It is what enables him to say “I am big ol’ queer and i want to represent you” and then gets himself elected not becuase he is gay, but despite it.

Of course he has to represent his constituents. but he owes a debt to other people who have put themselves out there so that he could represent his constitutents–

ALL OF THEM!

some of whom happen to be gay.

If he is far more concerned about his re-election than he is about that debt, and about doing what he ought to know is the right thing, I suspect that he is just another politician who takes the figurative money and runs, who has no principles, and whose sense of right and wrong ends aty “me-me-me.”

In which case, why would I support him?

Ben In Oakland
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

We already have way to many of those people running the show right now, which is a major reason why our country is sliding down the ol’ tubes.

Lucrece
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

I’m afraid a mere 2-6% of the population will ever be responsible for putting someone in office.

Even in San Francisco it was a close margin to Prop 8′s defeat.

That’s the sad reality of being a minority of our nature, not born into a community but diluted in many, and in small numbers to boot.

We need coalitions to get things done, and the drawback to that is that coalitions function on good faith, but how can it be enforced when the gay community is so politically weak compared to Hispanics, who will be making up the majority racial minority in the country in a matter of decades.

Matt
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

Lucrece, you’re wrong about Proposition 8 in San Francisco. It was rejected by three-quarters of the voters. Not close at all. Maybe you’re thinking of LA County, in which the Yes on Prop 8 side won, but just barely.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-2008election-california-results,0,3304898.htmlstory

Timothy Kincaid
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

It is true that there are few places in the country in which a politician can arise from within the gay community, go on to represent his community at a local level, and then win his party’s nomination for a congressional seat.

It is happening, however. There are young politicians – none yet on the national stage – whose entry into politics was through the community rather than through the closet.

I long for a politician who doesn’t see our community as a constituency to be courted, but as a people to represent. It is a sad truth that our biggest allies are not even gay.

David C.
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

I disagree only in one small but important way. I’m not really looking for politicians to place in government, I’m looking for actual leaders who understand the realities of politics but can rise above it when needed and actually lead. Leaders whose principles are aligned with foundational notions like equal justice, equal rights, and equal access to the benefits our society has created for itself.

enough already
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

I think a lot of the anger being directed at Fox is unfair.

We have gotten absolutely nowhere when discussing “civil rights” in exactly those quarters where we need votes – among socially conservative blacks and Hispanics.

When, however “separate is never equal” comes up, it – for whatever reason – draws attention to the inequity of the current situation. People get to thinking, “If they can do it to one group, they can do it to other groups, too”.

And that helps us.

Gay politicians are wonderful on paper. Unfortunately, for every Mayor of Berlin, we have 10 Westerwelle here in Europe. Be careful what you ask for -

Other Fred in the UK
May 18th, 2011 | LINK

I completely agree with Jarred. Also I very much doubt a gay politician would ever become Speaker.

John
May 19th, 2011 | LINK

David Cicilline of Rhode Island ran and won two terms as mayor of Providence as an openly gay man. Last year he ran and won a seat in the House of Representatives. I think there is also another representative who ran as openly gay. I don’t remember the name or the state.

Blake
May 19th, 2011 | LINK

Carla Drenner in Atlanta is an example of a gay politician. Came from the community, built her support in the community, championed gay rights, and then came to the statehouse downtown & couldn’t accomplish anything because she was essentially blacklisted by everyone except other inner-city congressmen.

She’s hit her max potential in GA, now in her 5th term, she runs unopposed, and is sort of forgotten about.

Marcvia
May 21st, 2011 | LINK

Well, Mr. Kincaid, I guess you’re reading more than enough examples of the problem you’re talking about.

Ironically, Gordon Fox claims Winston Churchill as his role model.

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