GLBT Forum Draws Mixed Opinions on Key Issues

Democratic White House hopefuls participated in a forum aimed at addressing key issues of interest to the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered community (GLBT). The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, organized the forum, which was broadcast on the gay-oriented cable channel Logo. Writer Marcus Mabry and blogger Jasmyne Cannick discuss how the forum resonated among gay people of color.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we want to go to a conversation about last night's presidential forum on gay rights.

Six of eight Democratic hopefuls met in Los Angeles to woo gay voters. The Human Rights Campaign, a group that champions civil rights for gays, organized the forum and it was broadcast on the gay-oriented cable channel Logo. The candidates took on a wide range of issues: gay marriage, the military's don't ask, don't tell policy.

But we wanted to talk about how gay issues connect with issues of concern to minority voters. And to do that, we have invited two guests with credentials in all of these areas. They are seasoned political observers who also happen to be black and gay.

Here with us at the KNPR studio in Las Vegas, Marcus Mabry. He's a New York Times international business editor. He's also the author of a new biography of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And political commentator and blogger Jasmyne Cannick joins us on the phone from Los Angeles. Welcome, everybody.

Mr. MARCUS MABRY (International Business Editor, New York Times): Hey.

Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Political Blogger): Good morning.

MARTIN: Marcus, why was this event important?

Mr. MABRY: Well, you know, I think this event signified a political reality and, I think, a commonality, a common political reality between gay and lesbian Americans and African-Americans and, of course, especially those of us who are both. It symbolized this reality of two steps forward, one step back. And so this was progress, because for the first time ever there was actually a presidential debate that dealt with gay-lesbian rights and issues. That's progress.

But it was not really a debate. It was the candidate's one-on-one, you know, one at a time talking to the moderators. The second way where I think it was just two steps forward, one step back reality was that, while they all came out in support of gay rights, only Kucinich and Mike Gravel actually said they supported full marriage rights for gay and lesbian - same sex couples.

That was, again, it's progress, but it's also a step back at the same time it's two steps forward. So I think it was interesting in that respect. I think African-Americans really know this reality, this reality of the Democrats want our vote because we are important constituents. And that's true of both gays and African-Americans. But at the same time, they cannot appear too close to us. They can't appear too in favor of, too much in favor of our rights because it will offend, quote-unquote, "mainstream voters."

MARTIN: Jasmyne, you watched the debate. Was there anything in - sorry, the forum. As Marcus pointed out, it was a forum, not a debate. Was there anything in particular you were hoping to see or hear?

Ms. CANNICK: Yeah, I was hoping for the candidates to actually, especially the, quote-unquote, "leading candidates" that a lot of folks in the gay community are supporting, to just come out and say, you know, I support you, I support, you know, full equality across the board including civil marriage. And like Marcus pointed out, only two candidates out of the six last night were able to do that. And according to the gay community, those two candidates are unelectable. And so the two popular candidates who everyone's sort of rallying behind, you know, couldn't do that. So I'm a little dumbfounded this morning as to why we're supporting them or why - let me rephrase that, because I'm not a huge supporter of the marriage issue right now because I find it to be a very singly focused issue that doesn't include anyone other than affluent, white, gay Americans.

But for those folks who are, you know, rallying and raising all this money around marriage, you know, to sit up here and have two candidates come to your forum to talk to the community and point-blankly say, you know, I'm for a separate but equal. I will give you civil unions but I can't do marriage. I don't know why we're supporting them.

MARTIN: Hold on a second, Jasmyne. Let's hear what one of those candidates had to say. This is what Senator Barack Obama had to say about the issue you're talking about. Here it is.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): If we have a situation in which civil unions are fully enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law, then my sense is that's enormous progress.

MARTIN: Marcus Mabry, Jasmyne says that is not enormous progress.

Mr. MABRY: Sure.

MARTIN: And she also said that this is, you know, on the one hand, she didn't like the answer. On the other hand, she says this is not that big of an issue in the black community. What do you say about that?

Mr. MABRY: Well, you know, it's interesting. We've been here before. As a country and certainly as black people we've been here before. People telling us, well, half a loaf is better than no loaf. And you've always gotten no loaf before so you should be happy with half a loaf.

It is ironic to come from and African-American candidate. So I think that is problematic. But I, you know, Coretta Scott King, the late Coretta Scott King, actually said this was civil rights issue and she was actually fighting for this issue before she passed away. And I think that is interesting and relevant especially to the African-American community.

MARTIN: Now, Hillary Clinton was very aggressive about her support for the gay community. She tried to take on sort of that stance last night. This is an affinity she reinforced last night. Let's hear from Hillary Clinton.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I come to these issues, you know, not as a senator or as a lawyer or as a presidential candidate, but as a friend of a lot of members of the LGBT community who are my age, who have suffered through a long period of coming out, of having to face families.

MARTIN: So Jasmyne, were you feeling the love?

Ms. CANNICK: You know, like I said, I kind of - I looked beyond all of that. At the end of the day, even Hillary could not just come out and say what, you know, everyone kind of wanted to say, which is that she would support civil marriage. You know, going back to what Marcus said, and especially about Coretta Scott King, I was thinking a lot about that because, you know, Obama brought up some Jim Crow last night.

And I'm saying to myself if we had a similar forum as last night's but it was about, you know, directed to blacks and about Jim Crow and one of the presidential candidates said to us, well, you can use the same restroom as whites, you just can't use the same toilet, we would never go for it.

So why are we accepting less from these candidates? I don't understand. And this was a forum that was specifically designed for us to be able to get an accurate picture of where the candidates stood on these particular issues. And now we know. And I think it's up to us to make a decision on whether or not we are willing to support a candidate who doesn't fully support us.

MARTIN: But one of the things you've written a lot about on your blog, Jasmyne, is the way in which the gay civil rights issues intersect with minority issues. And many people believe that gay marriage was a wedge issue in the 2004 election. Kerry, John Kerry, the Democrat, was also a supporter of civil unions. But it was - the issue was used as a rallying point for the Republicans as a way into the African-American community. And many people believe that the African-American religious leaders rallied around the Republicans, particularly in the key state of Ohio, which may have been a factor in the Republican victory. So when you pray - when you're evaluating how these issues sort of play against each other, do you think that scenario could happen again?

Ms. CANNICK: Absolutely it could happen again, especially when we don't have people who have the audacity to get out there and tell folks differently. You know, what I saw last night was a lot of scared people. Even in an environment, in a forum, that was specifically designed to speak to LGBT people, I still saw scared people, people who were scared that the word would get back to the pastors, the word would get back to their base, so on and so forth. So they had to play it, quote-unquote, "safe."

MARTIN: Jasmyne, can I interrupt you for a minute? I just - we have 30 seconds left. I just wanted to hear a final point from Marcus on that question.

Mr. MABRY: You know, on that question, I'm disagree with Jasmyne on that question. Because I think on that question, I think Katrina changed everything. I think after Katrina, the Republicans are no longer able - we've seen it. They're not even trying anymore to reach African-Americans and have these wedge issues where things that we are socially conservative on like gay rights, where they think that we can identify to the Republican Party. After Katrina, they don't even try it anymore. I don't think they would.

MARTIN: Okay. Thanks. But you know what? I think is a topic we're going to need to return to again. So let's hope that we can do that.

We were joined by political commentator and blogger Jasmyne Cannick. She joined us on the phone from Los Angeles. We're also joined by Marcus Mabry. He is The New York Times international business editor. He is also author of "Twice As Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power."

Thank you both so much for joining us.

Mr. MABRY: Thank you.

Ms. CANNICK: Thanks, Michel.

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