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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anthony Foxx Woos Charlotte's Gay Voters: 2011 Re-election Bid & Campaign Promises

Mayor Anthony Foxx Meets With Charlotte's Gay Community

Mayor Anthony Foxx became the first sitting Charlotte mayor to hold a public meeting with the gay community Wednesday night.

"I have the real pleasure of serving 720,000 people who live in this city," Foxx said. "Every single person has a unique background."

Several community members who attended the talk at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center called it a huge step toward acceptance and equality for a city that has long kept its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents at a distance.

"There is still this wide swath of conservatism in Charlotte," said Richard Thomas, chairman of the Mecklenburg Gay & Lesbian Political Action Committee. "The opportunity is phenomenal to now open that dialogue so that we can start change."

Many in the community are still angry with former Mayor Pat McCrory, who refused to send a routine welcome letter to greet attendees of the annual dinner for the Carolinas chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, a major gay rights advocacy group.

In 1995, former Mayor Richard Vinroot voiced his opposition to a city gay rights festival stating, "I don't wish to see us raise the level of exposure of the gay and lesbian movement in this city."

Teresa Davis, who moderated the mayor's discussion, drew a large round of applause when she held up a framed copy of the letter Foxx wrote welcoming the estimated 10,000 attendees at the Pride Charlotte festival in July.

The mayor covered multiple topics, including public safety, bullying in schools, and anti-discrimination policies.

Matt Comer, editor of Qnotes, a LGBT community newspaper, said the city still has a long way to go before members of the community feel included.

He and others peppered the mayor for much of the nearly two-hour conversation with questions and statements about why the city has yet to add benefits for domestic partners, like the county has done.

They pressed him to hold a public debate on the issue so that they, as voters, would know who they could support in November.

"At the end of the day it needs to be talked about. When is it going to be talked about?" said Riley Murray, 40, who lives in northwest Charlotte. "You're supposed to be our voice."

Foxx gave no firm commitments on bringing the issue to City Council or requesting a study. He said the city must consider that its budget is hundreds of millions less than it was a year earlier.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm going to support same-sex benefits without knowing the financial impacts," he said.

The council has debated the issue before in 2003, but City Attorney Mac McCarley said state law doesn't give clear approval for the benefits.

But a recent report from the UNC School of Government wrote that state law appears to give local governments authority to offer the benefits, though it hasn't been tested in court.

Last year, the Mecklenburg commissioners voted to offer domestic partner benefits to county workers in same-sex relationships in 2011. But it wasn't easy. Debate was heated and a public uproar ensued after Commissioner Bill James referred to fellow commissioner Vilma Leake's son as "a homo" after she discussed his death from AIDS as a reason to support the measure.

Gay Voters' Support For Republicans Nearly Doubled From 2008

Republicans made significant inroads among gay and lesbian voters in the midterm elections, with national exit polls for the House races showing that the GOP captured 31 percent of the vote of this group this year, compared to 19 percent in 2008.

The change from the last midterm elections in 2006 was not quite as large but an increase nevertheless. In 2006, 24 percent supported Republicans. Democrats' share of the gay vote rose from 75 percent in 2006 to 80 percent in 2008 and then dropped to 68 percent in 2010. Each year, approximately 3 percent of voters identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

"I have been very concerned over these last two years that the connection between the gay rights community and the Democratic Party is in danger of being broken, because I think expectations were set so high as a result of the 2008 election, and people are extremely disappointed," said Richard Socarides, a former assistant to President Clinton and senior White House adviser on gay rights.

Socarides said that the gay community recognizes President Obama has many pressing issues to juggle, but there's nevertheless frustration on his LGBT strategy.

"The president articulated in the early summer of 2009, when he had that event at the White House on the 40th anniversary of [the] Stonewall [rebellion] and had a couple of hundred people in the White House -- he said, essentially, give me two terms, and at the end of eight years, I will have accomplished for you what I said I would," said Socarides. "I think that some people come out of that as, we're not prepared to wait. And some people thought it was a bad strategy because they thought it was going to get harder not easier. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see this change coming in Congress a long time ago. So, I think that we as Democrats have a lot of explaining to do."

More conservatives have been speaking out in favor of gay rights as the issue becomes more mainstream amongst the general public, and Republicans perhaps sense some vulnerability and dissatisfaction with Democrats.

Of course, one of the central figures pushing for marriage equality is conservative attorney Ted Olson who, along with David Boies, argued the case seeking to overturn California's Prop. 8, which bans same-sex marriage. Former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman made headlines recently when he came out as a gay man and signed on to help raise money for the marriage equality fight.

The Log Cabin Republicans have also been taking on a more visible role, bringing the suit arguing that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is unconstitutional. R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, is proud of the fact that 12 of the 17 candidates the group endorsed went on to win their races. He said he believes that the reason Republicans performed better with the gay community in this election is because of the focus on the economy rather than social issues.

"Yes, Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be repealed, so we can have open service," said Cooper. "But if people can't pay their bills or there is concern about their investments, then there could be some overriding points there."

"We want Republicans who respect individual liberty and individual responsibility and champion that as conservatives," he added. "So that's the ideal, right? But knowing there are members of the party that don't fall under that definition -- or, as I like to say, we're working on them -- our guidance was, during this campaign cycle, if you have nothing nice to say about the gay community, say nothing at all. Just shut up. And talk about issues that do affect all Americans, like the economy. Everyone needs a job -- doesn't matter if you're gay or straight."

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, agreed that the struggling economy and larger political trends likely played a major role.

"There is enormous fear and frustration among people all across the nation, and a factor is a rocky, stalled economy and high unemployment rate," said Nipper. "When the party in power doesn't seem to be making it better, some people make their anger known at the ballot box. Is that the case here? It's tough to know for sure without people actually saying why they voted the way they did."

Socarides also said that some people who identify as gay may have been "voting more on economic issues rather than rights issues."

Among Republican elected officials, there has so far been basically no activity. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) attended a fundraising event for the Log Cabin Republicans in September, but received flack from the religious right for doing so. Besides this move, Republicans have shown little interest in making gay rights a major part of their agenda, and one of the few Republicans supporting the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) -- Rep. Charles Djou (Hawaii) -- lost his seat on Tuesday.

Cooper, who had just returned from meetings on Capitol Hill before speaking with The Huffington Post on Thursday, had more hope for progress. He said that Republican leadership staff had told him the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would likely be taken up during the lame-duck session in the House, although the calendar had not yet been set. He added that his group was pitching ENDA -- which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity -- to Republicans as a "pro-jobs piece of legislation."

"No one should be denied access to employment," said Cooper, "and that is a conservative talking point. I think we may have some opportunity there to gain some potential support or votes we haven't had in the past. And of course it helps we have some folks who are already in Congress, who are incumbent, who will help message that."

In the next Congress, he said the Log Cabin Republicans would be pushing a tax equity bill, to be introduced by Republican members. He also expected more Republicans and conservative Democrats to support the 2011 defense authorization bill -- which contains a provision to repeal DADT -- when it comes up, since the Pentagon will soon be finishing its review of the implications of open service for gays and lesbians.


2:33 p.m.: Several readers have written in to point out that the sample size of gay, lesbian and bisexual voters for this poll was small. Liz Goodwin of The Upshot spoke with Hunter College Professor Ken Sherrill, who studies the gay electorate and said that after reviewing the full data, there was "a disproportionate drop in Democratic support among LGB voters compared to Hispanic, black, and young voters." "Though the sample size is still very small and thus there's a large margin of error, Sherrill now says the drop may be attributed to 'dissatisfaction with the pace of change on LGB rights over the past two years,'" added Goodwin.

Gay Voters Angry At Democrats Could Sway 2010 Election

Kate Coatar is seriously considering voting for Green Party candidates instead of Democrats, whom she normally supports. James Wyatt won't cast a ballot at all because he no longer trusts anyone to fight for causes important to him.

If Democratic candidates are counting on long-standing support from gay voters to help stave off big losses on Nov. 2, they could be in for a surprise.

Across the country, activists say gay voters are angry – at the lack of progress on issues from eliminating employment discrimination to uncertainty over serving in the military to the economy – and some are choosing to sit out this election or look for other candidates.

President Barack Obama's hometown of Chicago, with its large, politically and socially active gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, offers a snapshot of what some are calling the "enthusiasm gap" between voters who came out strong for Obama and other Democrats in 2008 and re-energized Republican base voters, including tea party enthusiasts who say they are primed to storm the polls.

It didn't help that the controversy over the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays erupted less than two weeks before the election, when a judge overturned it, then Obama's justice department decided to fight the judge's decision. On Thursday, the Defense Department declared that "don't ask, don't tell" is official policy but set up a new system that could make it tougher to get thrown out of the military for being openly gay.

"It's all talk and nothing's happening, and I'm just over it," said Coatar, 62, a church business manager who said she's as concerned about health care and homelessness as about gay issues. "I don't know who to vote for and the election is a week away."

Wyatt, 35, a maintenance worker at the Center on Halsted, a community center serving Chicago's GLBT community, said politicians only court gay voters at election time.

"Once they're elected, they're not fighting for things like civil unions or same-sex marriage or ending 'don't ask, don't tell' because they're hot-button issues," said Wyatt, who usually supports Democrats. "We're just used as a piggyback for them to get into office. It's absurd."

Whether or not that's the case, Wyatt isn't the only one who feels that way.

And in places like Cook County, Ill., where the gay population represents about 7 percent of voters, that could mean the difference between victory and defeat in some races, said Rick Garcia, director of public policy for Equality Illinois. One of those races is a much-watched and close battle for Obama's old Senate seat between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk.

"If (candidates) can mobilize the gay community and get them out to vote, it could make all the difference in the world in some of these key races," said Garcia.

But volunteers who've been calling the 18,000 or so members of Equality Illinois to urge them to vote have been getting an earful. Many members say they won't vote or will vote against incumbents, regardless of their party affiliation or stance on gay issues.

This year's election is a stark contrast to 2008, when the gay community turned out in droves to elect Obama and help Democrats regain control of Congress.

"People were clamoring and very excited about the change that then-candidate Obama promised America," Garcia said. "Now I see lethargy at best and disgust at worst."

He said gains won under Obama, including in fighting housing discrimination, have not filtered out to many in the gay community because "the big issues have not appeared to change at all."

"But change takes time; sometimes it takes a lot of time. A lot of folks just don't understand that," said Garcia. "I am older and more seasoned, but most people are very disturbed with the administration ... and they're the hard ones to get out to vote.

"The message is huge: Don't take us for granted."

Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Times, Chicago's oldest and largest GLBT newspaper, and author of the new book "Obama and the Gays," said disappointment is showing up in another way: Some are refusing to donate money to candidates until they see progress, although it's difficult to gauge how much that has affected fundraising.

A message left Friday with the Democratic National Committee seeking comment was not immediately returned.

But many gay organizations are working hard to get voters to the polls, fearing they could face setbacks if Republicans retake control of Congress. Baim said Democrats and Obama still enjoy widespread support in some parts of the gay community, particularly among African-Americans and Latinos, and she believes the majority still will vote.

"People are disappointed but understand that this really is the best hope for significant change over the next several years," she said. "But at the same time, the anger is very real."

Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of the national gay-rights organization GetEQUAL calls the mood among gay voters a "disappointment canyon" but said they have no choice but to go to the polls.

She, however, is refusing to donate to or volunteer for any candidate this year. And members of her group are protesting wherever Obama appears on the campaign trail.

"We can't not take advantage of the right to vote, but that doesn't mean we can't vote smartly," said McGehee, of Fresno, Calif. "If I was a leader in the Democratic Party, I would be worried.

"Either we're important enough to fight for our equality or we're worth losing," she said. "Right now we're being treated like we're worth losing."

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Sources:, Huffington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, Google Maps

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