As everyone knows, the 2010 elections were not kind to President Barack Obama or his Democratic Party. Though the president was not on the ballot, many Americans expressed their displeasure with his policies by voting many Democrats out of office, giving the Republicans a firm majority in the House of Representatives. (The Democracy kept the U.S. Senate.) Things were even worse for the Democrats in Florida.
In addition to electing Rick Scott as their governor and Marco Rubio as their U.S. senator, angry Floridians chose GOP candidates for all of the state cabinet posts and for an overwhelming majority of congressional and legislative seats. The party of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama has now become a pathetic irrelevancy in the Sunshine State.
Broward County’s oldest and largest LGBT advocacy group, the Dolphin Democrats, shared in their party’s electoral debacle. With a few exceptions, like the election of Dolphin Vice President Carson to the Wilton Manors Commission, which made her the first out lesbian to be elected to public office in Broward, most of the candidates that Dolphins worked for and endorsed went down to defeat.
Perhaps the unkindest cut of all, as far as LGBT Democrats were concerned, was the defeat of Broward County Commissioner (and former Dolphin president) Ken Keechl who, as Broward County Mayor, was the highest-ranking, openly-gay elected official in Florida. Unfortunately for Keechl, there was a lot of public anger directed against the Commission this year and Keechl, as its weakest link, was the one to go.
Once again, the State of Florida was behind most states when it came to electing (or re-electing) openly LGBT public officials. In a year when other states elected openly gay or lesbian representatives or state legislators, Florida had to make do with the openly gay mayors of Gainesville (Craig Lowe), Pahokee (J.P. Sasser) and Wilton Manors (Gary Resnick).
Not all LGBT activists were upset by the Republican wave. Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the conservative gay advocacy group GOProud, was happy to point out that, “according to CNN, 31% of self-identified gay voters supported Republican candidates for the U.S. House.” Members of GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans rejoiced when many of their candidates won their respective elections.
In addition to the always gay-friendly U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, gay GOPs helped elect Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff and even Keechl’s successful challenger, Chip LaMarca.
Some of our gay brothers even helped Colonel Allen West along on his road to the U.S. Congress, though West’s fervent opposition to open gays in the military makes him a problem for most of our community members.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about our community’s need to go beyond political parties. More precisely, I wrote about the need to create a nonpartisan, LGBT activist organization in Broward County. Though working within the system is essential to accomplish our goals, and while the Dolphins have accomplished so much for our community, it is stupid for us to put all our political eggs into one party’s basket, especially when that party suffers such a catastrophic loss at the polls.
The fact that the Democratic Party has LGBT rights on its platform while the Republican Party is controlled by antigay bigots does not mean we have to automatically support the former against the latter. As my Republican friend Andy Eddy recently wrote, “it’s time we stop writing a pass for all office holders who carry the (D) next to their name and it’s time to start evaluating candidates on their credentials, records, and objectives before being elected and thereafter once in office.”
While, as a Democrat myself, I have many reasons to support my party over the GOP, I recognize the need to reach out to conservatives, Republicans and tea party members who might support some if not all of our goals. Sympathetic GOP officeholders like Ros-Lehtinen, Atwater, Bogdanoff, LaMarca and even West remind us that not everyone in the Grand Old Party hates us.
Like too many other constituents, LGBT activists are sick and tired of being taken for granted by a Democratic Party that often takes our votes, our money and our volunteer work and gives us little in return. Having to choose between do-nothing Democrats and often-hostile Republicans, many of our community members just stayed home. This is a good time for the Republicans to reach out to us, and for the Democrats to earn our support.
Though it might be too late (or too early) to start a nonpartisan LGBT group in Broward County, many of the activists who made such groups possible in the past are sadly dead or burned out, it is an ideal that we must strive for. After all, if Miami-Dade County (SAVE Dade) and Palm Beach County (Palm Beach Human Rights Council) can have successful, non-partisan advocacy groups, so can we. To quote a certain successful Republican politician, “let’s get to work.”