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Democratic Party (United States)  
 
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The Democratic Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1792 as a congressional caucus, and officially became the Democratic-Republican Party in 1798. The Party's first President was Thomas Jefferson, who was elected in 1800, but the party became divided over the next 20 years and the divisions led to the emergence of one strong wing under President Andrew Jackson in 1828.

In 1844 the Party's official name became the Democratic Party. The Party's central themes have always been populist. It emphasizes that government should be used to improve the lives of citizens. Recent Party platforms have highlighted commitment to the rights of minorities and women, support for organized labor, and programs for the poor.

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The glbtq Movement's Affiliation with the Party

Most modern political movements have involved themselves in party politics by forming party-related groups, serving as delegates to party conventions, forming caucuses within parties, and by working with the political campaigns of party candidates. The American glbtq political movement has followed a similar pattern and has largely affiliated itself with the Democratic Party.

As Democrats came to define glbtq issues as civil rights issues in the 1970s, glbtq support for the Party tended to follow. Furthermore, public opinion polls consistently demonstrate that Democrats tend to be less opposed to homosexuality and glbtq civil rights, and feel more positively toward glbtq people than do Republicans. Although Democratic elites are more supportive of gay civil rights than are Democratic citizens generally, clear majorities of Democratic elites and masses support glbtq civil rights.

Glbtq activists first became involved in party politics in major cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York during the 1960s and 1970s. However, activists soon became involved in state and national Democratic Party politics as well.

At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, two openly lesbian and gay delegates, Madeline Davis and Jim Foster, made history when they gave a televised address before the convention. In response to strong primary election support from glbtq activists in the party, 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern issued a civil rights plank that spoke directly to the demands of glbtq activists at the time.

During the 1976 presidential election, Democrat Jimmy Carter also actively sought the gay and lesbian vote. Even though he backtracked on campaign promises to the glbtq community after he gained office, in 1977 his Assistant for Public Liaison, Margaret (Midge) Costanza, invited fourteen gay and lesbian activists to the White House for the first-ever official White House meeting between presidential staff and lesbian and gay activists. Additionally, in 1979 President Carter appointed lesbian Jill Schropp to the National Advisory Council on Women in a White House ceremony.

By 1980 it was increasingly clear to many in the Democratic Party that glbtq activists were willing to identify glbtq-friendly candidates, organize glbtq voters, and vote as a bloc. As such, the glbtq movement's ability to influence election outcomes, and thereby ensure the representation of their interests within the Democratic Party, increased as well.

In fact, based on exit polls that identify the sexual orientation of voters, it is quite clear that gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters tend to vote for Democratic candidates and liberals over Republicans and conservatives--often by margins of three to one. Glbtq voters supported Democratic congressional candidates by margins of 61 percent in 1990, 77 percent in 1992, 73 percent in 1994, 72 percent in 1996, 85 percent in 1998, and 71 percent in 2002.

Glbtq support for Democrats was strong even in years when most voters went Republican, such as 1994 and 2002. Indeed, in 2002, when glbtq Democratic support dropped to 71 percent, the shift only partially went to Republicans, at 19 percent. The remainder, almost 7 percent, went to Libertarian and Green Party candidates.

Similar patterns of higher support for Democrats have occurred in each presidential election since 1988. In fact, during the infamous 2000 election, exit polls suggest that 70 percent of gay and lesbian voters chose Democrat Al Gore, 25 percent Republican George W. Bush, and four percent Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.

Mobilizing the glbtq Vote

But such overwhelming support did not occur automatically. The first serious effort to mobilize the gay and lesbian vote nationally came during the 1980 election cycle. A nationwide drive to secure a gay-rights plank in the national Democratic Party platform, "Gay Vote 1980," resulted in about a dozen lesbian and gay delegates in the Iowa caucuses. Lesbian and gay activists were also well represented at the 1980 national convention, with 77 delegates. An openly lesbian delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Virginia Apuzzo, used her position to co-author the first gay civil rights party platform plank for a major political party in the United States.

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President Jimmy Carter, a member of the Democratic Party, held the first official meeting between a U.S. president and lesbian and gay activists in 1977.
  
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