Last edited: December 20, 2004

Challenging Conventional Wisdom: An Independence Day Look at GLBT Involvement in State and National Party Conventions

Texas Triangle, June 30- July 6, 2000
4001-C Cedar Springs, Dallas, TX 75219
Tel: 214-599-0155
Fax: 214-599-0156

By Matt Lum

As banners of red, white, and blue wave in the American breeze this Fourth of July and family and friends gather over BBQ and fireworks to celebrate America’s Independence, gays and lesbians are sure to participate in the festivities.

But for many in the GLBT community, taking part in the political process that shapes the very landscape and climate of our independent nation has not been as easy as buying charcoal briquettes and a box of sparklers.

Mainstream American politics generally offer two choices: Vote Republican or Democratic. And although Ralph Nader provides a Green Party alternative and other Independent Party personas offer choices other than Bush and Gore, America’s history indicates no chance of a non-Republican, non-Democratic candidate being elected.

What does it mean to be a Democrat? A Republican? Who decides a party’s belief system? Who decides what initiatives will be introduced? The answer lies in the party’s conventions and the delegates chosen to be the voice of platform referendums.

Walking the Plank

Long before the Primary elections this cycle, grassroots organizers, political action groups, and involved citizens across the country began working in an effort to contribute to the building of their party’s political platform.

In the early stages of the process, any citizen in this land of the free has the potential to introduce referendums at their party’s precinct convention, usually held the same night of the primary election. Here, they also have a chance to be elected as a representative at the county level, promoting their ideas to a broader audience during the political progression.

In an effort to ensure gays and lesbians have representation with elected officials, GLBT political groups around the state rallied long before the primary elections to encourage community members to get in on the action. So, too, did the religious right.

As of now, both the Republican and Democratic parties in Texas have solidified their platform at their state conventions. The platforms are a culmination of the approved referendums introduced at all levels of convention camaraderie, and illustrate in writing a political credo on which endorsed candidates are encouraged but not required to follow.

In the platforms emerging from each state convention, it is clear where gay and lesbian issues rest with both parties.

The Democratic Party

"One of the most amazing things about the Democratic Party versus the Republican Party is that in the year 2000, gay men and lesbians who are members of the Republican Party are ostracized and even condemned in their party’s platform, while at the Democratic Party we are now an integral part of the process," said gay State Representative Glen Maxey.

Indeed. The Democratic National Committee officially incorporated gay and lesbian rights in their national platform twenty years ago. Austin’s Bettie Naylor was an integral part of the effort. Through her work, the platform language was introduced to the temporary committee, was adopted, then taken to the permanent committee, adopted, and then included in the platform.

"In August of 1980 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, that committee adopted the plank and it became a part of the National Democratic Party Platform," reminisces Naylor.

After meeting June 10 in Ft. Worth, the Texas Democratic Party echoed the national inclusion of gays and lesbians in party politics.

"Texas Democrats believe issues matter because public policy affects our daily lives. Where others favor special interests or seek to have government impose their version of "family values" on everyone, we offer common sense policies that value all our families," said the newly adopted platform.

Not only are gay and lesbian issues represented in platform language, gays and lesbians are active, welcomed delegates at local and state conventions.

"We sit on the State Executive Committee and Democratic National Committee. We are welcomed as contributing voices and the Party supports our full civil rights," said Maxey.

Tina Podlodowski is the most recent example of the Democratic Party’s commitment to including the GLBT community.

The Democratic National Committee National Chair Joe Andrew named Podlodowski, an openly lesbian former member of the Seattle City Council, to the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee.

Andrew, who made his nominations based on recommendations from Vice President Al Gore, and in consultation with DNC leaders said, "Tina Podlodowski will offer a valuable voice in the drafting of our platform. Her participation reflects the strength of the Democratic Party on issues of importance to American families and our leadership against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. With her leadership, I am confident that we will put together a platform that embraces the ideals of civil justice and equality."

Also as a part of their platform, the Democrats vowed to ensure "Freedom from discriminatory employment practices, including support for the Employment Non Discrimination Act;" In addition, they support the passage of the James Byrd, Jr., Memorial Hate Crimes Act.

The Democratic State Convention has also demonstrated its inclusiveness of gays and lesbians by permitting GLBT organizations with space at the convention.

In a stark contrast to the virtual lock-out of the Log Cabin Republicans at the Republican State Convention, the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus was "warmly welcomed by their fellow delegates," according to their press release. The group also had a prominent location for their information booth in the convention’s exhibit hall.

"The shameful treatment of the GLBT community by the Republican Party here in Bush’s home state says a lot about the differences between the two parties," said National Stonewall Treasurer Ron Ellis from Houston. "This presidential race is especially critical when you consider that the winner will likely be choosing a number of Supreme Court justices, which could affect our rights for the next generation."

The Texas Democrats also "support education initiatives and services to address the HIV epidemic, including increased access to treatment and therapy that improves quality of life and encourages return to the workforce."

The Republican Party

For years in Texas, the Republican Party’s Platform (under which current Texas Gov. George W. Bush was elected) has contained what some consider disturbing references to the ‘homosexual agenda’ and lifestyle.

"Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texas," it reads.

In an effort to change the language of the platform to reflect a more inclusive GOP, Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) in Austin and elsewhere around the state started before the precinct elections with initiatives to put Republicans in precinct chair spots to allow for gay friendly resolutions to be adopted.

According to Steve Labinski in Austin, more than 50 members of the gay Republican group were among the 8,700 delegates to the party’s state convention.

The LCR group also asked the Republican Party for space at the convention for their information booth, but was never given the opportunity. LCR later publicly condemned the Party.

"The group that runs the state party is very extreme and out of touch with the mainstream voter and mainstream Republican in Texas," said Labinski. "We had to ask them this year in order to make them come to a conclusion. The conclusion is they think it’s fine to discriminate against gay Republicans."

It is not unheard of for state Republican Parties to allow LCR information booths at their conventions. In Georgia and Alabama, LCR groups are allowed to participate with an informational booth and in Florida, the Log Cabin group has been named an official auxiliary of the state’s Republican party.

"This kind of exclusion is particular mostly to Texas," said Labinski. "We want to be treated like any other Republican organization like the Young Republicans, who might have a booth, or even advocacy groups like the Christian Coalition, who have both been allowed booths in the past," he said.

Instead, the group had a "Booth in Exile" parked outside the George R. Brown Convention center in Houston. Several Moderate Republicans stopped by to pick up literature and talk with members, according tot LCR.

Democrats immediately claimed that Bush was intentionally distancing himself from the very conservative and right-wing-controlled Republican Party of Texas. Bush later denied such allegations, saying he needed to spend that weekend campaigning for President out of the state.

"Obviously, If I have to campaign in Texas a lot, I’ve got a problem," he said.

Instead, Bush appeared via videotape, saying things such as, "As governor of Texas I have set a tone that is positive, hopeful and inclusive, and I will do the same as your president."

He later introduced his wife, Laura, who was warmly received by the convention’s crowd.

Another key difference at this year’s state conventions could be seen in the parking lot: Protests.

Along side members of the LCR, the Black Panthers were rallying as well. They carried large guns and chanted.

Other protestors, such as the Equality Rally Team in Houston voiced concerns with the Party’s policies on gays and lesbians. The protest included an afternoon Tent Revival in which Rev. Ray Hill gave a sermon in which Jesus went into the woods with one of his apostles.

"We were trying to tell them to be inclusive, and not to exclude," said Dan DiDonato, business owner and President of the Equality Rally Team. "We also thanked George Bush for making Texas #1 in executions and pollution."

The protest and precinct initiatives had little effect on the official Republican Party of Texas Platform that later emerged.

"Elimination of Executive Orders — The Party demands the elimination of presidential authority to issue executive orders, presidential decision directives and other administrative mandates that do not have congressional approval. Further, we demand a repeal of all previous executive orders and administrative mandates."

In other words, the appointment of Gay Ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, and other orders that protect gays and lesbians, such as the recent Clinton Executive Order that forces all school districts to include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies.

"We also deplore forced sensitivity training," the platform says.

"We also oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married. We urge the immediate passage by the Texas Legislature the "Defense of Marriage Act", which would deny recognition by Texas of homosexual "unions" legitimized by other states or nations.

And in a section entitled "Homosexuality" the platform reads:

"Homosexuality - The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, recognition, or privileges including, but not limited to, marriage between persons of the same sex, custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

Texas Sodomy Statutes — The party opposes the decriminalization of sodomy."

The party also states, "We oppose the adoption of children by homosexuals."

Bush recently agreed to finally meet with a group of gay Republicans, a talk that was kept mostly secret and involved only a few hand-chosen individuals. From the meeting, however, Bush became "a better person," he said.

Talk also circulated that perhaps a gay Republican would speak at the Republican National Convention to be held July 29 in San Diego.

"We have made some headway here in Texas, but the important thing to remember is that top elected Republican officials in Texas, even Governor Bush, are having trouble working within their own party," said Labinski.

He also noted that Bush and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison have received criticism by the party for displaying independent thinking and not towing the party’s socially conservative platform issues. The Republican Party of Texas continually passes resolutions requiring various "litmus tests" for candidates and officials.

"It is great that the issues of concern to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders that appear in the Democratic Platform are all written by non-gay folks without even so much as a request or prod from the gay caucus members," said Glen Maxey. "We’ve come so far that our civil rights are no longer for discussion — they are now for implementation and protection."

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