My thoughts on the Bernie, Hillary, the HRC, and LGBTQIA Firestorm By Kyle Leach
In the decade of my birth gays, lesbians, drag queens, and the transgendered fought for tolerance and acceptance. They pressed society and every human being they encountered, asking to be recognized and to be treated with dignity and respect. In the 1990’s I was in my early twenties. I was, for the first time, becoming my own person and making my own way. I was discovering who I was. The world and this nation were still broadly hostile, often violent, and universally dismissive of those of us who would eventually become known as LGBTQIA. LGBTQIA. That acronym does not tell the complete story of our history. It does not contain who we were, who we are, or what we will become. At that time, we were just beginning to assemble into the “alphabet soup” that now is almost universally recognized. Until the 90’s, I had never known a place where we were not demonized, dismissed, blamed, and hated. Slowly, that started to change.
One of the few people in public office, not in our community, who publicly defended us before the 1990s, was Bernie Sanders. In the 1990’s I remember learning about this crazy straight dude, from Vermont, who stood up for us. I was shocked-- shocked because someone was trying to help us who didn’t have to. In 1983, Bernie backed Burlington’s first-ever pride march. 1983! Think about that. He pushed to decriminalize homosexuality when he ran for governor of Vermont. He stood up for us in fighting against DADT and DOMA; and he voted against both. He stood by us frequently throughout my life, and his actions, coupled with those of many others, helped to move our community out of the closet and into the 21st century. He did all of this before it was fashionable. He supported us. He didn’t remain silent. He added his voice to ours, a true ally. The fact that we are even having a discussion about his record shows how much LGBTQIA, and the average American, need to learn about LGBTQIA history.
What did Hillary Clinton do for us in the 1980’s? What did she do for us in the 1990’s? Where was Hillary Clinton during these decades? Did she sanction her town’s first pride parade when I was twelve? No. That was Bernie. As First Lady, did she rail against her husband’s DADT policy? Again, silence. Did she fight against DOMA? Unfortunately, she was not silent. In this case, she supported it. Did she rally to abolish discriminatory laws pertaining to sexuality? No. She didn’t. It’s true that Hillary “evolved” on many issues relating to LGBTQIA, but not until the last decade. And on marriage equality, her change of heart came just two years ago. She changed her mind and supported us when it was politically expedient to do so. She needed us. In fact, each time she chose to “evolve”, the political ramifications of that evolution diminished. Now, it’s fashionable to support us. So there is little risk. Does this mean Hillary is a bad human being? No, of course not. But it does mean that people should check their history books, and get all their facts straight about how and when she did support us and what the conditions of that support were. Personally, I’m a little cautious of people who have to “evolve” on civil rights issues. And I’m even more cautious when a person doesn’t consistently look at their fellow human beings as equals. As for Hillary Clinton, she has many strengths, to be sure. But, unfortunately, this arena is not one of them. And it never has been.
The last component of this piece deals with the Human Rights Campaign. like Hillary, they also have “evolved”. They were once one of the foremost organizations spearheading issues that were important to the LGBQTIA community. They made us very visible. They collaborated with many organizations, including the Democratic Party, and drew in revenue to help fight for our rights. They are very efficient at those two things: collaborating and fund raising. Now, the organization is extremely corporatized, as are so many of our large scale nonprofit organizations, as is our society. My biggest criticism of the HRC is that the organization’s focus is not very diverse. Money is not spent on those who really need it, especially marginalized people in the LGBQTIA community, it is spent on fashionable things that can help raise even more money. I’m also still very upset at the HRC because when ENDA was being debated, many from the HRC were willing to throw out the T in LGBTQIA in order to gain what they considered to be success. They felt the entire transgendered community was worth sacrificing to gain success for the other groups in our community. And what’s even worse, is they were willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in our community, those that face the worst oppression and hate, and need the most support.
I abandoned the HRC a long time ago, and I would only ask that people be careful of any advice you would get from the organization. They have become a self- fulfilling prophecy, and are beholden to money and power, selling out to remain relevant at all. The fact that the HRC board was willing to praise and endorse Hillary, a candidate who has a lower HRC rating than Bernie, over Bernie, before the primary, gives you a good indication of how money and power mean more to the HRC Board than the LGBTQIA community they say they support.
In the last two decades of my life, there have been far too many LGBTQIA who have lost their lives unnecessarily. Many of us don’t survive coming to terms with our sexuality in one way or another. Those of us who do survive are understandably altered by our experiences. Whether those of us are beaten, shot, bullied, succumb to AIDS, or take our own lives, those parts are taken from our collective, far too soon, and leave us far less than what we should be. Still, we keep moving forward and amazingly continue to find ways to keep their memory a part of our world. And we thrive as a community. It is what we do. I have felt respect now; and I know what dignity is. I know what it feels like to trust and have a sense of community. I also know what love is. But I have not forgotten where we have come from and those that have helped us. I also kept track of those that stood in our way and those that shielded themselves from the discomfort or repercussions that support might bring, by staying silent on issues, or pretending to help our community behind the scenes.
Dark deeds in our world succeed so often, not because humanity is bad, but because, too often, people are afraid to stand up to those dark deeds. Actions can speak louder than words and so can the lack of action. In the 1980’s, activists used to chant SILENCE=DEATH. Even though we are in the 21st century, don’t think that has lost its relevance. Stand up. Don’t be silent. Silence does equal death.