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social sciences

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Democratic Party (United States)  
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Glbtq activism in the Party led Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart to take additional steps in courting the gay and lesbian vote in 1983 by speaking to the main gay Political Action Committee in Los Angeles. The event was the first time a presidential candidate from a major party addressed a glbtq interest group. Other candidates soon followed. In 1984, Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson attended a meeting at New York City's Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.

Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination in 1988 largely ignored most glbtq issues, with the exception of AIDS. Even so, gay activists, such as Julian Potter, played key roles in the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates, including those of Richard Gephardt and Michael Dukakis. Long-shot candidate Jesse Jackson did attempt to appeal to glbtq voters, as he had done in 1984. Indeed, Jackson appears to have won a majority of the lesbian and gay vote in urban areas. In 1988 there were 98 openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

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The Clinton-Gore Years

By 1992 the situation for activists had changed dramatically within the Democratic Party. Democrats in Congress had orchestrated a series of policy victories for the glbtq community and activists had a proven track record of delivering votes and campaign funds. Furthermore, Republican President George H. W. Bush had alienated many gay and lesbian fiscal conservatives.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton capitalized on the situation in a number of ways, including his October 1991 promise to drop the ban on gays in the military. Clinton's promises led many activists to work for his campaign in volunteer and paid positions. In addition, activists such as David Mixner helped to raise over $3.4 million for Clinton's campaign and the national Democratic Party. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, 133 delegates were gay or lesbian.

Throughout the early and mid-1990s glbtq activists increased their presence in local and state Democratic Party politics as well. More gay men and lesbians were elected or appointed to party positions and increasing numbers of gay and lesbian candidates were running, and winning, as Democrats in local and state elections. In fact, over 90 percent of all glbtq candidates for public office in the 1990s ran as Democrats.

By the 1996 presidential election, activists clearly understood that they had a friend in the White House, even if President Clinton's role was often limited to blocking hostile actions by a Republican-controlled Congress. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) estimates that it received $3 million in donations from glbtq contributors during the 1996 election cycle.

After the election, activists continued to support the Party, raising money for the 1998 congressional elections and the 2000 presidential campaign. Indeed, between December 1997 and February 1999, President Clinton attended three DNC fund-raising events targeted at glbtq contributors, which raised $1.2 million. During October 1999 glbtq events raised about $2.5 million for the DNC, including about $850,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Hillary Clinton's New York Senate campaign took in $125,000 at a December 1999 glbtq event. Later that month activists raised a record-breaking $900,000 for the DNC at a luncheon where President Clinton was the guest of honor. Activists estimate that glbtq contributors and fund-raisers provided more than $10 million to Democratic candidates and the DNC in the 1999-2000 election cycle.

Glbtq influence in the Democratic Party was also made clear when his openly gay advisor, Richard Socarides, convinced President Clinton to become the first President to address a glbtq group in November 1997. President Clinton gave the keynote address at a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) meeting. Some observers have suggested that his speech before the HRC was as historic as Harry Truman's address before a black civil rights group 50 years earlier. In addition, Vice-President Al Gore became the first vice-president ever to address a glbtq group in 1998 when he spoke to an HRC meeting.

National Stonewall Democratic Federation

In 1998, glbtq Democratic Party activists further institutionalized their local party organizations by creating the National Stonewall Democratic Federation (NSDF). A federation of 45 local clubs with a total of 10,000 members, it has proven to be an important group within the national party.

Most of the local clubs were previously independent local glbtq Democratic Clubs involved in local and state party politics. One of these, the California Stonewall Democrats (CSD), strongly made its presence felt in the 1998 gubernatorial race. When the group sponsored a candidate debate, all three Democratic gubernatorial candidates attended.

CSD eventually endorsed Gray Davis and glbtq voters overwhelmingly supported his candidacy, providing him with 73 percent of their vote. Davis became the most glbtq-friendly governor in California's history, signing key civil rights legislation addressing discrimination and benefits for same-sex couples, and appointing gay men and lesbians to more than 37 government positions.

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