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social sciences

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Democratic Party (United States)  
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Activists in Party Positions

President Clinton rewarded the support of glbtq activists with many positions within his administration, and by 1999, rewards began to flow in terms of national Party positions. In 1999 President Clinton nominated gay financial writer Andrew Tobias to be treasurer of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The nomination placed Tobias in the highest-ranking position ever attained by an openly gay person in a major U.S. party.

Glbtq people also served on the Democratic National Committee's site search committee for the 2000 national convention. And in 2001 four openly glbtq people took positions in the DNC. Mark Spengler became Base Vote Director, Campbell Spencer became National Gay and Lesbian Base Vote Director, Clay Doherty became the Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council of the DNC, and Christine Kenngott took the position of Deputy Director of Marketing.

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Glbtq involvement in the Party during the 2000 elections was also clear from candidate positions on issues and staff memberships. Democratic Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign had glbtq persons in key posts and gained the support of many national glbtq leaders. For example, lesbian Donna Brazile served as Gore's campaign manager and lesbian Julian Potter campaigned for Gore in key primary states, while openly gay Jeffrey Trammell served as Gore's chief adviser on gay issues.

As Gore faced primary battles in early 2000, he met with 20 leaders of the NSDF; Gore's Democratic opponent, Bill Bradley, also met with the group. Gore became the first candidate for president of any major party to take direct questions from glbtq people when he fielded questions on a gay online network called in January 2000, and Gore was the first candidate to argue that glbtq foreigners who are in a domestic partnership with U.S. citizens should have the same immigration rights as married heterosexuals.

Although the 1992 Democratic convention was clearly a milestone for glbtq inclusion within the Party, the 2000 convention demonstrated just how integrated activists have become within the Democratic Party. A number of activists addressed the convention in prime time spots, including a keynote speech by the president of the largest glbtq political group, the Human Rights Campaign. Furthermore, the 2000 Democratic platform stated unambiguously that the Party supports "the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation," including fair and equitable benefits for same-sex couples.

By the 2000 election cycle, it was also clear that glbtq activists had embedded themselves within the Democratic Party at the state and local level. Even in conservative states such as Utah, activists had been appointed to state Party posts as early as 1997. In Iowa, 14 activists were included on the state's 2000 platform committee, and seven other glbtq persons won election to the Iowa Democratic Party Central Committee.

In Ohio, the state Party adopted an affirmative action policy stating that at least five of its allotted 170 seats for the nominating convention must be filled by gay or lesbian delegates. The Iowa Party has a similar policy, but requires only two delegates. Steps to recruit more glbtq delegates for the 2000 Democratic convention also moved forward in New York, California, Rhode Island, and Georgia.

The situation in local party organizations in most major cities was similar by 2000. For example, in Philadelphia the 1998 Democratic City Committee elected 33 open glbtq people, more than doubling the number of glbtq persons on previous Committees. The power of activists in the Philadelphia Democratic organization was enhanced by a strong local group, the Liberty City Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club, which had assisted in the election of Philadelphia Mayor John Street in 1999.


During the 2004 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, nearly all of the Democratic contenders have appealed to glbtq voters and their concerns. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has even suggested that the field of Democratic candidates was the strongest ever on gay rights issues.

In just one example, Rep. Dick Gephardt's (D-MO) lesbian daughter, Chrissy Gephardt, campaigned heavily for his nomination in the summer of 2003, and in October 2003, Rep. Gephardt named party activist and campaign fundraiser David Mixner to be a co-chair of his 2004 presidential campaign. Mixner, an openly gay man, has worked on more than 75 political campaigns, and raised more than $15 million for Democratic candidates since the late 1980s.

Finally, although it is clear that the glbtq movement has mainstreamed itself within the Democratic Party, its influence is not all encompassing. Indeed, although the glbtq community has clearly supported the DNC and been supported by key figures in the Party, as of 2003 the DNC had still not designated the DNC Gay and Lesbian Caucus as an official "operating caucus," which would give it a seat on the DNC executive committee. Other caucuses, such as the African American, Asian Pacific, Hispanic, and Women's caucuses, do have official status.

Moreover, in some parts of the country, especially the South, Democratic candidates tend to distance themselves from the national party's position on glbtq issues, sometimes even refusing to meet with or accept the endorsement of state and local glbtq organizations.

Donald P. Haider-Markel

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social sciences >> Overview:  Political Science

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Bailey, Robert W. Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in an Urban Setting. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

_____. Out and Voting: The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Vote in Congressional House Elections, 1990-1996. Washington, D. C.: The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1998.

_____. Out and Voting II: The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Vote in Congressional Elections, 1990-1998. Washington, D. C. : The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2000.

Bull, Chris, and John Gallagher. Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s. New York: Crown Publishers, 1996.

Button, James W., Barbara A. Rienzo, and Kenneth D. Wald. Private Lives, Public Conflicts: Battles Over Gay Rights in American Communities. Washington, D. C.: Q Press, 1997.

Layman, Geoffrey C., and Edward G. Carmines. "Cultural Conflict in American Politics: Religious Traditionalism, Postmaterialism, and U.S. Political Behavior." Journal of Politics 59.3 (1997): 751-77.

Lindamen, Kara, and Donald P. Haider-Markel. "Issue Evolution, Political Parties, and the Culture Wars." Political Research Quarterly 55.1 (2002): 91-110.

Rayside, David Morton. On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Riggle, Ellen D. B., and Barry L. Tadlock. eds. Gays and Lesbians in the Democratic Process. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Rimmerman, Craig A. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.

_____, Kenneth D. Wald, and Clyde Wilcox. eds. The Politics of Gay Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Smith, Raymond A., and Donald P. Haider-Markel. Gay and Lesbian Americans and Political Participation. Denver: ABC-CLIO Publishers, 2002.

Vaid, Urvashi. Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Yang, Alan S. "The Polls-Trends: Attitudes Toward Homosexuality." Public Opinion Quarterly 61.3 (1997): 477-508.


    Citation Information
    Author: Haider-Markel, Donald P.  
    Entry Title: Democratic Party (United States)  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 13, 2006  
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    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
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