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Lesbian Notions by Libby Post
Campaign Memo
by Leslie Robinson - SGN Contributing Writer

After watching the Human Rights Campaign/Logo presidential forum, I decided a memo to the LGBT handlers, counselors, and advisers to the candidates was in order.

Memo to LGBT Candidate Advisers:

Thanks for making sure your candidate was at the forum, but I think some of them needed a bit more prep time. I took the liberty of perusing the forum transcripts, and, honestly, each of the candidates needs help with his or her language.

In the approximately 15 minutes each candidate had on screen, the actual use of the words Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender was at a minimum. Barack Obama said "LGBT" five times, "Gays and Lesbians" three, added "Transgender" once, and said "Gay" twice in the same sentence - "they've got Gay friends, they've got Gay family members." John Edwards said "Lesbian and Gay couples" three times, Dennis Kucinich said "Gay" once, Bill Richardson said "Gay and Lesbian" four times, and Hillary Clinton said "Gay" and "LGBT" one time each.

I have to hand it to Mike Gravel though. He referred to "the Gays" twice, but used the word "Gay" 10 times!

It might be old-fashioned of me, but I gauge a candidate's comfort with our community with her or his ability to actually say the words. It's one of my litmus tests.

You need to prep your candidates better - when they're addressing an audience filled with Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender people, they need to say the words. In essence, they need to speak directly to us - not use euphemisms, with which the evening's forum was rife.

A few specific, well-placed references to us would have worked wonders for Obama when he spoke somewhat awkwardly about civil unions. He said, "I am a strong supporter of not a weak version of civil unions, but of a strong version, in which the rights that are conferred at the federal level to persons of - you know, who are part of the same-sex union are compatible."

Now wouldn't it have been better if the "Rock Star" candidate - as he was referred to at the forum - said the following? "I am a strong supporter of civil unions where all the federal rights, privileges, and responsibilities are conveyed to Lesbian and Gay couples." Short, sweet, and to the point.

Edwards needs to know that it's OK to say "Lesbian and Gay youth" or "LGBT youth." It doesn't mean you're recruiting for our side. He was eloquent when speaking about the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center and the work it does for our homeless youth, but a few references to the specific population he was talking about would have served him well. He pondered that "without that place [the LA Center], where would these - where would these young people go?" How much stronger, how much more emotional would it have been if he said, "Where would our LGBT youth go?"

Edwards also needs a little help saying "Transgender" and "transition." In answering a question regarding Susan Stanton, the Transgender city manager of Largo, Fla., who lost her job after transitioning, Edwards couldn't say "Transgender." He talked about "going through what they're going through." When referring back to the question during his closing remarks, he spoke of Stanton's firing as a case of discrimination based on sexual orientation - wrong! She was fired because of gender identity.

All I can say about Kucinich is that if he really wants to be taken seriously, he's got to tone down the love! Sure, he's great on our issues, supports same-sex marriage and everything else we want. He may be "evolved," as the forum's emcee, Margaret Carlson, suggested, but honestly he sounded like a flake - not someone who is presidential.

Didn't anyone prep Richardson at all? We appreciate his record - his calling a special session just to get a domestic-partner bill passed (which didn't happen). But to not understand a simple question on whether or not being Gay is a choice is just politically stupid.

His take on "don't ask, don't tell," however, was good. "When you have an America that is asking men and women to fight and die, the last thing you need to do is give them a lecture on sexual orientation." Right you are.

And then there was Clinton - as slick and smooth as ever. Her answer about opposing same-sex marriage was brilliant: "Well, I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions." She's taken a cue from Bill - triangulate, triangulate, triangulate. She's put her own spin on the issue of civil unions, leaving anyone who disagrees with her on it looking like the odd person out.

All she needs to do is say "LGBT" or "Lesbian and Gay" a few more times, and more of us will be eating out of her hand, thanking her for the crumbs while she consumes the cake.

Then there's Gravel. Too bad he's not electable. He had the LGBT rhetoric down, but it was a little strange when he kept referring to "the Gays" who support him - the Gays in New York, the Gays in San Francisco, the Gays in Alaska. I found his honesty about the political scene refreshing and wish he hadn't left elected office some 25 years ago. We need him in the Senate now more than ever.

So there you have it. There may not be another national forum on LGBT issues in the 2008 election, but there will be plenty of opportunities to get your candidates talking the talk so that one of them can walk the walk to the Capitol on January 20, 2009.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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