The Dolphin Democrats are South Florida’s oldest, largest and most successful LGBT political organization. Founded in 1982 by Karl Clark, Tom Bradshaw, Jamie Bloodworth and other activists, the Dolphins have made Broward County the most gay-friendly county in a still-homophobic state. Thanks to Dolphin leadership, Broward has both an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance and a domestic partners law. Friendly politicians on both the state and local levels owe their success to the votes, money and volunteer labor of Dolphin members.
Gay activist-politicians like Dean Trantalis, Ken Keechl and Justin Flippen have used the Dolphins as a launching pad for their political careers; and our community has been the better for it. I have been a member of the Dolphin Democrats since the early days and have nothing but affection and respect for people who lead that organization.
Unquestionably, the Dolphin Democrats are a big success. In fact, the Dolphins are too successful; so successful in fact that it’s almost a given that any up-and-coming LGBT activist in Broward County would join the Dolphins as a matter of course. Thanks to their success, the Dolphins have sucked the air out of Broward’s queer political life. There was a time when our community was led by independent, non-partisan political advocacy groups like the Broward County Coalition for Human Rights, the Tuesday Night Group, GUARD (Gays United to Attack Repression and Discrimination) and the PAC-PAC. Today the only alternatives we have to the Dolphins are the equally partisan (but less successful) Log Cabin Republicans and Sunshine Republicans.
As a Democrat, I was proud to be part of a community and a state that helped elect Barack Obama President of the United States, along with a Democratic Congress. Just over a year later, Obama remains popular but he and his Congress have failed to deliver most of what they promised us. Though the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is now the law of the land, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is going nowhere and both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the so-called Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) promise to be around for a long time.
The recent revelation that the White House really doesn’t want DADT repealed this year was the last straw for too many activists. Our community expects more from this President and this Congress than a few empty gestures or symbolic appointments.
In all fairness, we are not alone. Each and every group that worked hard to elect Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2008—anti-war activists, civil libertarians, environmentalists, feminists, labor unions, racial and ethnic minorities has had its collective heart broken by the reality of an ineffective and incompetent Administration and Congress. Our president seems to do a better job hosting parties in the White House than pushing other Democrats to pass his agenda. For their part, the Dems have missed their opportunity to enact useful reforms because of their distressing inability to unite and their disgusting lack of will power.
The long-awaited health care reform bill is a disaster; going from a concept that everyone favored, to a bill that everyone hates. Unemployment is still high, our men and women are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and cap and trade is still a long way off. Obama and the Democratic Party have disillusioned their friends, energized their enemies, and alienated independents. The question right now is not if the Dems will lose seats in Congress come November but whether or not the Republicans will gain enough seats to retake the House and/or the Senate. The Republicans are evil but the Democrats are incompetent; and frankly I’d rather deal with evil than with incompetence.
Like too many other progressives, LGBT activists are sick and tired of being taken for granted by a Democratic Party that takes our votes, our money and our volunteer work and gives us little in return. Admittedly, the Republicans (except for Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) have done nothing to win our support, being married as they are to homophobic, religious extremists.
However, the fact that GOP is controlled by our enemies is besides the point; as is the fact that Democratic clubs like the Dolphins have done great things for our community. As LGBT activists, our priority is to win equal rights for lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people and not to elect politicians of one particular party. If the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress want our support, they are going to have to earn it.
I wrote this article before the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Senate’s Health Care Reform bill, giving President Obama and the Democrats a rare but decisive and well-deserved victory. However, I still believe that Obama could have gotten much better health care legislation last summer if he had displayed stronger leadership and some of the public relations skills that he so brilliantly displayed during the 2008 campaign. Instead, he left health care reform in the hands of an ineffective Congress and allowed the Republicans and the Tea Baggers to dominate the debate. I hope he learned his lesson.