Democrats' growing partnership with gay and lesbian Americans (1992)
by Ronald H. Brown
Democratic National Chair (1989-1993)
The Democratic Party has always been on the cutting edge of the fight for expanding rights and inclusion - and it is no different now. The contemporary gay and lesbian civil rights movement, while only a few decades old, has a welcome home in the Democratic Party. Our party stands today on the side of gay and lesbian civil rights - as it has in party platforms for more than a decade. We seek your support in 1992.
As chairman of the Democratic Party, I know we need to work to show that our commitment is more than rhetorical. From my own work in the civil-rights movement, I also know that the fundamental standard by which to judge a political party is the standard of justice and fairness - not just short-term political expediency.
But as we head into this election year, I ask all gay and lesbian people to keep a clear eye on the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Rep. William Dannemeyer and Sen. Jesse Helms find a home for their hatred in the other party.
Gay and lesbian rights are anathema to the Republicans - and they use scare tactics and distortions to divide and frighten our nation. They call gay sons and lesbian daughters "enemies of the family" - while Republican policies are what tear families apart. They preach a doctrine of "traditional family values" in which tolerance, diversity and privacy play no role.
This should surprise no one. For decades, the Republican Party has stood as a monumental obstacle to achieving civil rights for women, African-Americans and others. It has peddled the politics of hate in campaign after campaign, inventing symbols like Willie Horton and welfare queens - ignoring symbols as powerful and positive as the AIDS quilt.
Democrats who led the civil rights battles of the '60s and '70s found their leadership smeared and their actions distorted by Republicans trying to play on fear. Today's leaders in the battle for gay and lesbian civil rights find the same thing happening all over again. George Bush actively campaigned for Helms saying he "needed Jesse in the Senate" even as Helms continued his campaign of bigotry.
For all of their talk about "less government," Republicans are truly the big regulators when it comes to the most personal and intimate aspects of our lives. They want government out of the boardroom when it comes to policing environmental laws, but want it in the bedroom when it comes to sexual orientation - and choice.
Indeed, Republican opposition to gay and lesbian rights springs from the same source as their opposition to choice for women. Both are extremely personal and private issues in which the government should have no say. Yet Republicans don't take diversity, tolerance or privacy seriously as "traditional values." They are happy to impose values set by their narrow leadership on the nation as a whole.
They talk about ending social activism in the judiciary, but then appoint the most aggressive judiciary in history when it comes to restricting rights and privacy. Sadly, the most lasting legacy of the Reagan and Bush administrations may be the 70 percent of all federal judges who have been appointed by right-wingers since 1980.
The Republicans make no pretense of dealing with health care for all Americans - much less specific and crucial needs during the AIDS crisis. Bush will now mention health care in his State of the Union address - but only because it is campaign season. The bipartisan National Commission on AIDS chastised Bush for his complete lack of leadership on the issue; he did nothing in response. Only when Magic Johnson focused the nation's attention did Bush do anything, and that was only a photo-op briefing where he tried that traditional Republican remedy for injustice - blaming the victim.
Republicans will increase their negative politics as the year goes on. There will be more innuendos and smears on the way. These forces of backwardness will be countered by all of us, but gay and lesbian Democratic leadership will play a particular and important role. A new generation of gay and lesbian Democratic leaders - elected and appointed - are taking their place at the political table. The work of their leadership is already showing.
Democrats in 1992 will support gay rights and lift the archaic Pentagon ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces. More than 90 percent of the cosponsors of gay-rights legislation in Congress are Democrats. Bush has demonstrated his inability to provide leadership on AIDS and his unwillingness to stop discrimination in federal hiring. Democrats, including our presidential candidates, have shown that they grasp the importance of these issues and have a clear willingness to lead the nation forward.
I urge you to get involved in presidential politics. Run for delegate, find a way to make your priorities known. Any registered Democrat can run for delegate to the convention - call your local Democratic organization or club.
Our nation's strength is our diversity - and the Republicans just don't get it. Our ability to change, to grow, to advance - these are the core values that have made our nation great. Expanding inclusion has been the watchword - not limiting access, restricting choice or continuing bigotry.
Civil rights never come without a struggle; progress never comes without agitation. And in that agitation, friction between friends may arise. But I can guarantee one thing: As gay and lesbian rights become law and as the barriers of bias fall away, it will be Democrats - as champions of civil rights, human rights and social justice - leading the effort.
Last updated: 07 April 1996 by Chuck Tarver