Friday, April 10, 2009

The Mad Voter -- The Gay Smear

(Originally published in the Liberty Press, September 2008)

Welcome to this new political column, The Mad Voter. I am your host on this mad adventure, Carolyn Marie Fugit. I have a fairly colorful resume: professionally, I am a human resource manager; as a volunteer, I serve on the Board of Directors for the Wichita Peace Center, and until mid-August, I served as chair of the Wichita chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition, founding chair of the Kansas Equality Foundation, and served on the KEC state Board. I was also director of the Fair & Safe Schools Campaign, and before that, I was vice-chair of Wichita Pride. What’s on my resume is not nearly as important as why it’s there.

On occasion, I have been accused of being gay. In our circles, “gay” is not an accusation. But oftentimes, people bandy about the word as a horrifying epitaph, the end of civilization, as if we would all burst into flames or pillars of salt. And those that believe we LGBT folk might have some inherent human right to live free - you know, allies - receive almost as much hostility. Allied elected officials face losing their offices if seen as gay-friendly, and we need courageous men and women in office working for us. It is quite disappointing that “courageous” is an apt word for someone choosing fair legislation.

More disappointment lies with candidates and interest groups who choose to prey upon some voters’ homophobia to win elections. Wedge issue, red herring, diversion, ignoring all other issues . I say gay is an important issue but not because we happen to be. This election season proves to be no exception. This year, three openly LGBT candidates ran or are still running for office: Aunesty Janssen in Olathe, Inga Taylor in Wichita, and Christopher Renner in Manhattan. Janssen, running for state House of Representative, and Renner, running for state Board of Education, made it to the general election. Taylor, however, lost her bid in the primary against Gail Finney. As nasty as the Taylor/Finney campaign became, the repercussions reach beyond the primary and into other campaigns.

Without going into detail (Google and the Washington Blade provides more information than even I can), the Taylor/Finney campaign ended with Taylor’s sexuality becoming the primary focus. Between damning emails from Finney, subtle postcards and calls, and an out-right hateful whisper campaign by Finney supporters, Finney somehow managed to come out with the support of the Kansas Equality Coalition, the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, and other Democrats from around the state. Taylor, on the other hand, resides in the middle of the heated exchanges between KEC, Finney, and the Victory Fund.

In all of this, Victory Fund seems to want to stay out of Kansas elections for the time being. According to Renner in a post he made to the Kansas Rainbow List, Victory Fund has decided on a “hands-off” approach to our state based on the “debacle” here in Wichita, leaving him short on campaign funds. Even before his ultra-conservative opponent won her primary, Kathy Martin or her supporters started automated calls asking “Do you want a pervert on the State Board of Education?" Martin has never been a friend to us; in a questionnaire response to KEC, Martin stated “I do not support promoting the homosexual lifestyle choice, but I do support treating all of God's people with dignity, respect and goodness.” I feel dignified, don’t you?

The Gay Smear can be even subtler. When the Kansas Legislature finally voted on a measure to outlaw Lawrence’s domestic partner registry, a political tactic sent the bill back to a committee instead of asking legislators to outright vote to support unmarried partners registering with the city of Lawrence so they might be able to get health insurance from their employers. This hidden support of the registry meant none of their opponents could call them gay lovers. It’s a terribly quiet way of apparently supporting us.

I have long believed that we Kansans are a fair-minded group. These Gay Smear campaigns prey upon our concern for our neighbors and escalates into fear and hate. While Martin tells the people of Manhattan that Renner is a pervert, Dodge City High School has a Gay-Straight Alliance; another GSA formed in Winfield this summer. USD 259’s Board of Education included sexual orientation as a protected class in their safe-school policy without a monumental hate campaign before, during, or after the decision. And two rural school districts decided to start the school year off with a gay-inclusive safe-school policy. When we focus on community and each other, fairness and Kansas values, we collectively move forward to a more inclusive state.

I hope to end each mad adventure with some encouragement and ideas to help make change happen. This month, I have the tried-and-true “get out and vote,” but also pay attention to your local KEC chapter. Support an allied candidate by baking cookies for a fundraiser of theirs. Make sure to tell them you are there because they promise to support LGBT-inclusive legislation. Tell friends who don’t usually vote that they should vote for allied candidates. And most of all, be friendly to our friends!

And PS: I am, much to the bemusement of many friends, bisexual.

The Mad Voter combines a bit of anger, a bit of crazy, and a bit of passion to Make A Difference (MAD) through simple actions and “armchair activism”. This column provides ideas to be involved and to know why.

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