In attending the forum organized by the Stonewall Democrats of New York City on February 24, I was taken aback by the reception our community provided to Harold Ford, Jr., a yet undeclared candidate for the U.S. Senate. In fact, it appeared to be more of a forum for members of the organization POWER rather than an opportunity to hear Mr. Ford respond to very important questions.
What struck me most, was that Mr. Ford told the audience on multiple occasions that he “evolved” in regards to his position on gay marriage and that he now supports marriage rights for all Americans. Although the would-be candidate continued to reiterate his support for equality, his voice fell victim to those who were deeming him a “liar” and drowning out nearly every response Mr. Ford tried to provide. It disheartens me to think that we, as a community, were not afforded a fair opportunity to listen to and discern Mr. Ford’s positions on a variety of issues, instead we were beholden to an array of outbursts. In light of these outbursts, we prevented Mr. Ford from explaining his political evolution from positions held in Tennessee to those he now holds in New York. Perhaps fortunately for him, he was never forced to explain his position, but rather was surrounded by those yelling “liar” even before he started.
Further, each time Senator Gillibrand was mentioned, the crowd broke out in warm applause and positive chatter. Perhaps what we as GLBT New Yorkers have forgotten (I lived in Albany for four years), is that Kirsten Gillibrand was not always a strong supporter of gay rights. In 2009, Gillibrand told a gay magazine, InsideOut, “What I’d like to do legislatively, on the federal level - and I think we’ll be able to do this with the new president - is actually make civil unions legal in all 50 states, make it the law of the land.” Since when is separate but equal fair in the eyes of GLBT New Yorkers? Senator Gillibrand then continued by saying that marriage is “culturally oriented.” What exactly does “culturally oriented” mean?
Correct me if I am wrong, but it sure sounds like Senator Gillibrand has herself “evolved” with regards to her position on marriage equality. It is for this reason that I believe that we must reflect on this election and ask ourselves whether we have provided Mr. Ford with a fair opportunity to win the GLBT vote. Did Mr. Ford cast votes that we disagree with? Did he cast votes that stalled the advancement of GLBT rights? Absolutely; however, if we as a community fail to embrace those politicians that change their views in favor of equality, we will be stonewalling our own efforts towards a more equal society.
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This letter is not an endorsement of either candidate, but rather a request that we listen and receive those who are willing to stand with us in our quest towards a truly equal society. We can only hope that one day, gay marriage will become seen as being as “culturally oriented” as Senator Gillibrand’s past characterization of marriage between a man and a woman.