Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution - Linda Hirshman (2012)
Chapter 10. Massing the Troops for the Last Battle: The New-Media Gay Revolution
At the beginning of the April 30, 1997, episode of the sitcom Ellen, Ellen’s friends are sitting in her living room waiting for her to emerge from her bedroom, dressed for a date with an old college friend. She’s taking an uncharacteristically long time to appear. “Ellen,” says her pal Paige Clark, “are you coming out or not?!” An hour later, network television star Ellen DeGeneres announced she was a lesbian. A few years later she hosted the Oscars.
Starting in 1996, the gay political movement had begun to get real traction. First, in Romer, the Supreme Court said gays could use the government for their ends, just like every other group in America. Then in Lawrence, it said gays could lead their private sex lives undisturbed, just like every other group in America. Passing hate-crimes laws, legislatures across the nation reminded their citizens that gays were not target practice. And, finally, the United States Congress added its voice to the chorus.
As they took their place in the liberal state, the gay revolutionaries never lost sight of their desire to join the ancient clubs of war and marriage to which entry was still barred. They might be different from the majority, but they would not put on the badge of dishonor offered them in the early Clinton years. Now in the third decade since Stonewall, they methodically organized to fight the last battles.
They were determined not to repeat their mistakes—of being unprepared and of losing control of the time and place of the battles. Without any concerted plan, a few key players also moved quickly to adopt the new techniques that became available to social movements in the Internet age. The movement’s success had always been heavily driven by its amazing adaptability, as it morphed from the discreet Mattachines to the bell-bottomed liberationists and the rich array of organizations and strategies that ensued. Black-tie dinners, screaming protests. The contemporary push to Victory involved every imaginable strategy, including some that could not have been imagined when the first street kid threw a penny at the cops in 1969.
By June 1993, the armed services had taken Bill Clinton to the cleaners. The would-be reformers thought it was bad before they started making a fuss? They didn’t know the half of it. As the effort to revoke the antigay exclusionary policy faltered, to be replaced with the hated DADT, the military had been identifying the people it thought might be gay and now it was going to get rid of them. When that happened, as activists like retired air force captain Michelle Benecke knew from experience, one day a soldier or sailor would be in his bunk and the next morning he’d be gone, bunk neatly made, all evidence of his existence erased. The activists called them “the disappeared.”
The day Congress passed DADT, Benecke—JD, Harvard Law School—and Dixon Osburn, a newly minted JD and MBA from Georgetown, looked at each other across the office that had housed the gay movement’s brief and ineffective Campaign for Military Service. The lobbyists the movement had deployed and everyone else were gone. And the phone was ringing off the hook. “If we don’t do something now,” Benecke remembers them saying to each other, “it will be decades before this comes up again.” MBA Osburn went home and wrote a business plan for a new organization. They would reverse DADT and they would represent the service members whose lives were on the line. They would be the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Benecke knew that the whole strategy of fighting for gays’ civil rights in the first DADT campaign had been a mistake. “They didn’t even think of us as human beings,” she says of her former colleagues in the armed forces. “Asking for civil rights made no sense to them at all,” Benecke says. “People who disappear in the middle of the night certainly have no accountability and no pushback. Our goal was to be their voice when they could not speak for themselves.” Instead of asking for rights for the entire group, they would represent one sympathetic case after another, each apparently isolated, until the accumulation of individual cases undermined the entire policy. Like the gay civilians before Stonewall, gay soldiers had been living in the state of nature in the military; once identified, they became objects, rather than players in the social contract. As such, they were in a free-fire zone, subject to anything their superiors wanted to do to them. Benecke’s project was classic social-movement tactics, to push back until the oppressors were forced to recognize their victims as people who would be citizens. As a side benefit, the pushback would, case by case, undermine the justification for the entire policy.
A DC veterans group that happened to be run by a progressive guy from the Vietnam era gave them a room in its offices and four computers. The two-person legal-defense fund and their two volunteer helpers had four hundred cases the first year. Of course they could not act on all of them, but the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) gave gay military people a place to call. Slowly, the gay establishment started to hand Benecke and Osburn some of its Rolodex. Benecke remembers the turning point when, two years after they started, gay philanthropist Henry van Ameringen of New York enabled them to hire a fund-raiser. They got some cooperating attorneys from outside.
In America, one of the key aspects of citizenship in the liberal state is being entitled to a lawyer. So, in the first of many moves to impose on the military the values of the liberal state, the young activists engaged with the military’s own defense lawyers. Even the military’s lawyers are lawyers and they began to up the ante on their advocacy for gay people. The activists trained the lawyers to get in the minute they got a call for help from someone being targeted instead of waiting until charges were filed and then merely playing a formalistic role defending them.
Usually, the actions against members came in clusters, under a particularly homophobic command or local culture. The gay group called them “witch hunts.” (SLDN even had Halloween fund-raisers at which they auctioned off the best pumpkins to raise money.) When they got word that a witch hunt was taking place—members would call, or chaplains or gay groups would complain—they would focus their resources on that particular base or unit. As a premodern institution, the military will always let people from another premodern institution, the church, visit military members, so SLDN would ask the local congregation of the gay Metropolitan Community Church—or a sympathetic nongay church—to send a chaplain to a targeted base or unit. Preach the two commandments of the accused, they implored their clerical allies: Say nothing and ask for a lawyer.
Sometimes the accused really had to ask hard. Seaman Amy Barnes, for example, was at the Norfolk Naval Base fighting her discharge. When she missed her second appointment with her military lawyer, he became worried and started to look for her. He found her locked in a room with navy officials who were trying to get her to sign her discharge paperwork and waive her right to a discharge hearing. They would not let him in. He could hear her saying, “I want to speak with my lawyer” and “I’m not signing anything until I speak with my attorney.” Meanwhile, he was banging on the door demanding to be let in and yelling, “She has a right to an attorney. You have to let her go.” Frantic, he called SLDN, which got one of their cooperating outside lawyers to run to federal court and fill out a complaint by hand. Shortly thereafter, the judge enjoined the navy from proceeding. The federal judge was more than a little surprised at the navy’s “procedures.” Maybe the military didn’t embrace every nuance of the constitutional order, he suggested, but there were limits. Her lawyer was banging on the door where they were plea “bargaining” with her!
SLDN’s client representation morphed into a political initiative when the press started taking the goings-on seriously. In 1994, SLDN began to assemble its myriad cases into a big report, documenting meticulously the skills and honorable records of the people being driven from service. The stories first started getting attention from the gay press, especially from Lisa Keen, editor of the gay DC paper, the Washington Blade. Finally, after batting the stories away like a bothersome fly for too many years, the mainstream media started to come to SLDN press conferences. In 1997 Benecke was interviewed by CNN. In 1999 she appeared on PBS. One of their stories made the front page of the New York Times. In each case, the coverage made the victims of DADT human to the public.
SLDN also took advantage of the fact that every soldier was also someone’s constituent. Congressional inquiries stopped a number of witch hunts. SLDN even worked with conservative senator Strom Thurmond, who had a legendary constituent-services operation, to help South Carolina gay soldiers. Being constituents was another way SLDN framed the gay soldiers as human beings, not just scary shadows in the shower in Sam Nunn’s photo op.
Help came from unexpected places. After a harrowing sexual-harassment, rape, sodomy, and adultery scandal at the army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds in 1996, the army took a sudden interest in the treatment of women. As the National Gay Task Force’s Sue Hyde had noticed almost a decade before, military women were always disproportionately targeted for accusations of homosexuality; it was a way to keep them in line. A July 1997 secretary of the army’s Senior Review Panel Report on Sexual Harassment finally recognized that “one particular form of sexual harassment not addressed [in the survey that they had done for the report] but commented on in a few focus groups and by other female soldiers in informal discussions, was the fear of being accused of being a homosexual. Female soldiers who refuse the sexual advances of male soldiers may be accused of being lesbians and subjected to investigation for homosexual conduct. As in the case of men falsely accused of sexual harassment, women accused of lesbianism believe that the mere allegation harms their careers and reputations irreparably.” Undersecretary of Defense Edwin Dom issued a guideline to protect such women: “The fact that a service member reports being threatened because he or she is said or is perceived to be a homosexual shall not by itself constitute credible information justifying the initiation of an investigation of the threatened service member.” Slowly the environment changed.
Not soon enough for Private (FC) Barry Winchell. One of his fellow soldiers at Fort Campbell in Tennessee, Calvin Glover, had been ragging him about his sexuality, and Winchell punched Glover out. On July 4, 1999, Glover took a baseball bat to Winchell in his sleep. As Winchell’s roommate, later convicted as an accessory to the murder, egged Glover on for losing a fight to a “faggot”—Winchell had started a relationship with a transsexual from a local bar and either was or was not gay—Glover killed Winchell in his bed.
When some straight soldiers in Winchell’s bunk found out that the army was calling it an “altercation between soldiers,” they illegally left the base to get to a pay phone. One of them had an uncle he knew was gay. The uncle called Human Rights Campaign (HRC). “My nephew says there’s been a death at Fort Campbell and the military’s saying it was a fight and it’s not,” he told the person who answered the phone. HRC called the SLDN and the SLDN sent its people flying to Tennessee. They made common cause with Winchell’s mother and stepfather, and the case went public. Pressed by SLDN, the Pentagon sent an A-level investigative team to the base. The army tried and convicted Glover of first-degree murder and bargained a long sentence with the roommate. More important for political purposes, the army inspector general investigated the base for allowing such a climate of harassment. If there’s anything commanders don’t want, it’s the media, or the inspector general; General Robert Clark of Fort Campbell got a hefty dose of both. As the Clinton administration drew to a close, the Pentagon issued an action plan on harassment and training, a direct response to the uproar over Winchell’s murder.
As the years went by, SLDN found a number of officials who were genuinely appalled at DADT. The drip, drip, drip of cases of real soldiers lost to the service of their country and SLDN’s painstakingly detailed documentation allowed the military to start seeing their gay and lesbian members increasingly as people. In 2006, Massachusetts congressman Marty Meehan introduced a bill to repeal DADT. He was not overwhelmed with sponsors, but, starting with a respectable 122 colleagues, he began the slow work of increasing the number every year.
The campaign had turned gay and lesbian soldiers into three-dimensional human beings, the movement to change the position of gays in the military was run by people experienced in the military, and the campaign was leveraging internal military values of service and orderly relationships. Things were unlikely to change with a Republican Congress and president, but, as the first decade of the new century began to pass, the movement was lining up its troops to line up its troops.
The movement opened a new front in Massachusetts. Massachusetts was the only state in the country to vote for Democrat George McGovern, who lost to Richard Nixon in a landslide in 1972. As the Watergate scandal erupted the following year, people from the Bay State started sporting bumper stickers that said “Don’t Blame Me. I’m From Massachusetts.” In 2003, the ornery Bay State went its own way again, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first tribunal in the nation to effectively order the state to marry same-sex couples.
The Massachusetts case was the product of a long, carefully constructed campaign. Hawaii had taught the gay activists a valuable lesson: once the movement turns to litigation, any random lawyer and client can raise political issues with nationwide implications, anytime and anywhere they choose. The gay lawyers’ Litigators’ Roundtable, which had developed around the sodomy issue, tried to take control of events. They had a roadmap. In 1994, a Dutch scholar, Kees Waaldijk, detailed a strategy, “Standard Sequences,” for how to make a successful move on gay marriage, based on the positive experience with the issue in Europe. Take small steps, Waaldijk advised: decriminalize sodomy and get antidiscrimination laws passed before taking on marriage. Do not try to short-circuit the process. (Being a European, Waaldijk’s list does not include the most important consideration: how easy it is for the marriage opponents to toss the issue to the people, in a direct vote. It was the referendums in Hawaii and Alaska that reversed both early American court victories.)
So it was no surprise that gay legal activists—this time the experienced and connected New England legal group, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD)—turned to Massachusetts on marriage. Boston’s GLAD was, with Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the oldest gay legal institutions. Founded in response to a police sting operation to catch gay men at the Boston Public Library, since 1990 GLAD had, under the leadership of its legendary Civil Rights Project director, Mary Bonauto, become an institutional leader in high-impact litigation for the gay and lesbian community. The state had a history of stubbornly progressive politics: sodomy was not criminal and discrimination was already forbidden. In addition, it was harder to gin up the initiative process there. On November 18, 2003, four of the seven members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court took same-sex marriage—an arrangement that had never been enacted into law by any voter in even one American state or city—and enshrined it into the equality provisions of the Massachusetts state constitution.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court chief justice Margaret (called “Margie” with a hard G) Marshall, who wrote the opinion in the case, Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Health, is that rare judge with the Cheshire cat qualities normally found in very successful politicians. Everyone in Boston has a story about Justice Marshall’s warmth and graciousness. A native of South Africa, between 1964 and 1966, Marshall was president of the antiapartheid National Union of South African Students. Sent abroad for her own safety, she spent the years after her radical youth in the most conventional path—going to Yale Law School, then working for a corporate law firm. Recruited to help Harvard hire a general counsel, she somehow wound up getting the job herself. Republican maverick governor Bill Weld put her on the Supreme Judicial Court. When his Republican successor Paul Celucci tried to elevate her to chief judge, the powerful Boston archbishop, Bernard Cardinal Law, stepped in to stop it, arguing that she was anti-Catholic. Marshall so charmed the Catholic speaker of the state House of Representatives, Tom Finneran, that he vouched for her personally and she prevailed.
GLAD presented the Massachusetts court with the predictable marriage arguments. Gays had been the subject of historic discrimination, so the laws fencing them out should be treated as suspect; marriage is a fundamental civil right, as established in the race marriage cases; and sexual partnership is a private decision like birth control. This last argument was hanging fire when GLAD filed Goodridge, as the US Supreme Court had not yet decided Lawrence v. Texas, the sodomy case.
No one will ever know what went on behind chambers doors after the argument in the marriage case in March 2003, but the Massachusetts justices, who normally issue their opinions within three months of oral argument, fell silent for a record eight months. As they deliberated, they and everyone in the country knew that the US Supreme Court would be deciding Lawrence that June. Four months later, in October, Massachusetts handed down its opinion.
Justice Marshall calls Goodridge a mere application of constitutional language. Under the Massachusetts constitution, “All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights. . . . Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.” Although the federal Supreme Court has not spoken to this exact issue, she concedes, the Massachusetts constitution often protects its people better than the nation.
Goodridge laid down the basic pattern of all the same-sex marriage decisions that would follow. Following Lawrence, the Massachusetts court wove what Larry Tribe calls the “double helix” of constitutional DNA: one strand of protection of fundamental rights and one strand of protection of equality. As the court protects people in the fundamental areas of human life, like childbearing and marriage, it increases the equality quotient in society, enabling more people to have a normal civic existence. As it increases the equality quotient in society, it spreads the wealth of the elements of a decent human existence. Marriage having long ago been recognized as one such element, the constitutional regime demands it be extended equally unless there’s a very good reason not to.
The evidence in Goodridge reflected, as it has throughout the constitutional litigation of gay rights, that there is no legally cognizable evidence to support the exclusion of gays and lesbians. The social-science learning all being on the side of the gay plaintiffs, the court declined to follow Justice Scalia’s invitation to a Kulturkampf. And then it showed why it had waited for Lawrence: “Our concern is with the Massachusetts Constitution as a charter of governance for every person properly within its reach,” Marshall opined. As the Supreme Court had just held in Lawrence, she continued, “ ‘our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.’ ”
But the court was not content to rest its decision that gays could marry—the first in the country with some chance of survival in the political process—on an invocation to the electorate to hold its collective nose. Like Justice Anthony Kennedy in Lawrence, Justice Marshall chose to address the contention that the people think homosexuality is immoral directly. “Several amici suggest that prohibiting marriage by same-sex couples reflects community consensus that homosexual conduct is immoral. Yet,” she wrote, echoing Dutch scholar Waaldijk, who had set up the strategy a decade before, “Massachusetts has a strong affirmative policy of preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” See, she wrote, policies on employment, housing, credit, services, hate crimes, public accommodation, public education, decriminalization of private consensual adult conduct, and child custody law.
Every one of the laws Marshall invokes could be explained by the liberal insistence that “moral code” not be allowed to interfere with the benefits of citizenship in the secular, liberal state. Even people whom some in the citizenry consider immoral are entitled to equal-employment opportunity or protection from violence. This lower standard for citizenship in the liberal state explains why the fights for eligibility to pass civil rights laws in Romer and protection of sexual relations in Lawrence were easier than battles over marriage or the military. But dishonest as the morality argument is, it reflects a deeper reality: Once people start to participate in the secular state—dating, working, living nearby, and so forth—their moral stock does begin to rise. When marriage (and military service) is the only aspect of civic life withheld from people who are otherwise acceptable coworkers, neighbors, tenants, or café patrons, it increasingly looks like the only explanation possible is not that gays are immoral but just the subjects of the dreaded ick factor, prohibited to lawmakers since Romer.
By putting marriage in a category with employment, housing, and the rest, the Massachusetts decision also recognized the process by which marriage has been increasingly digested into the liberal state. Married women have achieved rights of contract, tribal prohibitions against interracial coupling fell to the values of equal protection, and secular protections against violence penetrated the single-family dwelling. The more marriage began to resemble the other institutions of normal civic life, in which equal citizens freely choose their relationships, rather than a naturally prescribed union of two structurally unequal participants, the more vulnerable it became to the gay arguments, like equality, from normal civic life.
With the decision in Goodridge, the process, begun centuries before, of bringing marriage into the liberal state took a giant leap forward. Opponents tried—and almost succeeded—in getting the issue to a referendum, which would have been its death knell. But the referendum procedure in Massachusetts requires a majority vote in two successive joint meetings of the whole legislature over two successive years before an amendment to the state constitution can go to the people. Although the proposal passed the first year, the second year it failed. The exquisitely careful planning of the long-sighted, obsessive gay legal establishment paid off.
Perhaps for the first time in history, people began reciting excerpts from an opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts as part of their wedding vows. EleGala.com, the wedding planning website, suggests one passage to use:
“Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. . . . Without question, civil marriage enhances the welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance. . . . Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. . . . Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”
Marshall thinks all the fuss over her court’s venture into the culture wars was vastly overrated. Many great social-change decisions start in state supreme courts, she told an interviewer. The California Supreme Court struck down the law against interracial marriages two decades before the federal courts finally got around to it in 1967. “Nobody ever remembers the state judges who make these decisions,” she explained. Marshall, who was raised in South Africa, has one of those plummy British Empire accents that elicits disproportionate respect. Even with the accent, though, it’s hard to swallow her assertion that Goodridge would not in the long run be the most important decision she ever made.
Republican Backlash, Gay Movement Organizer
President George W. Bush wasn’t coming to the wedding. On February 25, 2004, he approached the bank of microphones in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. The United States, he announced, must enact a constitutional amendment to “preserve” this most “enduring human institution” from the gays and their allies on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He’d hinted at such an amendment in the State of the Union address and now he was making it explicit. In the months that followed, in states all over the country, antigay activists put up statewide initiatives forbidding gay marriage just in case the federal effort ran aground. Republican strategist and presidential wise man Karl Rove contemplated the 2004 election and rubbed his hands.
Rove might not have been as happy had he known what he would inspire. Listening to the president in his apartment nearby, former fund-raiser and movement activist Michael Rogers got pissed. He knew the Republican Party was riddled with closeted members, and he was “sick and tired of watching the Bushies use marriage to get elected when they were then going out and sucking dick.” He didn’t have a bank of microphones, but he had learned a lot about direct action years before when he was in ACT UP. That February, he started calling the offices where the closeted gay staffers worked and asking whoever answered the phone questions like, “I want to know why Pete Meachum is working for Ginny Brown and he’s a gay man.” Tell whoever answers the phone, Rogers figures, and everybody in the office will know. He kept calling around and asking.
Rogers’s neighbor, John Aravosis, had the same reaction Rogers did. He was so angry at the president’s proclaiming a campaign against gay people he started a website, DearMary.com. Write to Vice President Cheney’s openly gay daughter, Mary, it urged, and ask her to stop the campaign for an anti–gay marriage amendment. Then Aravosis started a regular blog, Americablog. Down the street, Rogers saw what Aravosis had done, quit his phoning around, and started BlogActive.com. As he gathered his information about the gay staffers and legislators working against the gay community, he started publishing their names. “No community,” Rogers says, “should be expected to harbor its own enemies.” And so the List was born.
In the year or two before the president’s antigay press announcement, as blogging software became available, tech-savvy gay guys started teaching themselves how to use it. Political journalist Andrew Sullivan, who mixed gay journalism and advocacy in with a myriad of other political interests and subjects, was the quintessential early adopter, starting his immensely successful blog, the Daily Dish, in 2000. Like Sullivan, the Dish attracts an enormous following in the nongay world, because of its wide-ranging subject matter and reliably unpredictable political stances. The Daily Dish is not strictly a gay blog, but it covers and advances the gay issues that interest Sullivan with disproportionate power because of the size and diversity of its audience. Sullivan sees his mission as bridging the gay and nongay world. “We’re going to get nowhere,” he contends, “unless we convince people who are not gay to support us.” (He has never even given up on the Church, although the pedophilia scandal tried his faith sorely.) “I bought a copy of ‘HTML for Dummies’,” successful blogger Andy Towle of Towleroad (as in “toll road”) reminisced recently. Towle had been editing a conventional gay magazine, Genre, and was a writer by trade. At first Towle, in California, and another blogger, Indiana farm boy Bil Browning, used the technology as a kind of journal or personal site. Towle posted things like how he went to the beach with his boyfriend and a picture of a cute dog they saw.
Slowly, as the politics heated up, the bloggers turned more and more to gay activism. Browning turned his personal website into the Bilerico Project, a group blog, sort of like the gay Huffington Post, but not as wealthy. Browning just made up a wish list of people he would like to have write for his blog, and almost everyone said yes. Browning is particularly watchful about diversity, and developed a number of contributors from the transgendered population within the community. Towleroad has always included a healthy dose of popular culture. Towle watched his traffic mount steadily as he heavily covered the making of the gay love story Brokeback Mountain.
Once there were blogs, news started pouring out. For years, freelance journalist Rex Wockner had been the secret information system of the gay revolution. He started with the technology early, in 1996, to help his editors in the conventional print media. His bulletins on domestic and international news of the LGBT community, including Rex Wockner’s List, were a veritable gay AP. But it was an insider’s resource, directed to people like the heads of gay organizations. The new blogosphere was retail. It was the logical extension of Wockner’s List. No longer did gay people have to scour the mainstream media for a handful of stories about gay subjects; they were all gathered in one place. Although the heavily political gay blogosphere mostly started in response to a Republican president’s official insult to the community, once established, the blogosphere belonged to everyone.
Radical activists in apartments in DC’s hip Adams Morgan neighborhood weren’t the only ones to see the possibilities in the new technology. Since 1996, millionaire philanthropist Tim Gill had spearheaded periodic meetings of an ever-expanding group of other gay philanthropists—the OutGiving conference. In 2005, one of Gill’s attendees, another gay computer mogul, Juan Ahonen-Jover, and his partner, Ken Ahonen-Jover, decided that the meetings had no carryover. “The rich ones met every eighteen months,” Juan says. “They talked about this and that, and then they went home and nothing changed.” Ahonen-Jover started a website and a Listserv, eQualityGiving. “Services for donors,” the website proclaims: endorsements, conference calls, all courtesy of the Ahonen-Jovers. We pay for everything, they say. No advertising, no obligations. The Listserv was as exclusive as the blogs were democratic. Big givers—“not just any thousand-dollar donor,” as Juan says—and powerful policy makers (legislators and their chiefs of staff, no Indians) were invited to participate. Once the Democratic Party could have told gay donors anything and they would never have known if it was true. No more.
Every single one of the eleven states with anti–gay marriage initiatives on the ballot passed them in 2004. Looking at 2006 coming down the road, medical technologies heir and gay philanthropist Jon Stryker tried to figure out what to do next. He dispatched his adviser, progressive gay political consultant Lisa Turner, who had worked in state capitals as political director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and for the Victory Fund, to look into the matter. Turner learned something startling: the Democratic Party in the initiative states had done nothing to stop the tide in 2004. Their field offices played no role. Their workers carried no literature. In some of the states, the Democratic Party would not even let the gay opponents to the initiatives have access to the precious rolls of Democratic voters, the voter files.
Former White House gay staffer Paul Yandura, whom Turner knew from the community of rich gay philanthropists and their advisers, was furious. Since the Clinton years the gay community had thought it could buy its way to political power by funding the Democratic Party. Yandura had raised a bunch of gay money for the Democrats. And the dishonest beneficiaries wouldn’t even stay bought.
Big, bearded, right out of the Italian working class, Yandura sees himself as unusually free of the Washington status-and-access game. Yandura got his start in politics when he tried to volunteer to work at the Clinton White House in 1996. His first day, he was sitting in the top row of a big bowllike auditorium “wearing a suit and tie for the first time in my life, surrounded by a bunch of Ivy League kids” listening to a Secret Service agent lecturing the would-be politicos about being forthright regarding any past indiscretions. A woman came into the room at the bottom of the bowl and asked the Secret Service guy a question. “He turned white,” Yandura remembers, but he dutifully said to the assembled multitudes, “Is anybody out there gay?” Yandura raised his hand. “Come with me,” the woman said. So Yandura gathered up all his stuff and took a long walk down the stairs of the auditorium, all eyes on him, the room silent, sweating bullets, and thinking, “I’m dead.” The messenger took him to Marsha Scott, a heterosexual woman in charge of Clinton’s first outreach to the gay and lesbian community, who took his arm and walked him into the White House and then into the Oval Office and in walks the president of the United States. “This is the guy who’s going to help me with gay stuff,” Scott says.
Rising from volunteer to a staffer, in 2000 Yandura raised millions for the party. “They were my family,” he says of the Democrats. “They gave me a job, they gave me a home.” After the 2000 election, Yandura opened a consulting firm with his former boss. When he found out what Turner had uncovered, Yandura decided to see if he could get the story of the Democrats’ failure to fight the initiatives in the states out. Yandura sent Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean a public letter asking why the Democrats weren’t doing more to fight for their gay constituents. The DNC responded by firing their employee Donald Hitchcock, Yandura’s partner. Bad plan. The blogosphere lit up. The era of the Democratic Party doing anything it wanted to the gay movement was over.