What’s behind the back turning?Top Highlights, Politically Aware Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
For the past 10 days, friends from outside San Diego have inundated my inbox with two questions: “Did people really boo a gay mayoral candidate at Pride?” And, “Why?”
Answering the first question is simple. Yes, they did. The second question is harder to answer, despite reading the knotted mass of Facebook and commentary threads on the subject.
Most non-San Diegans assume that Councilman Carl DeMaio’s voting record on LGBT issues must be the problem; but it’s not. While representing one of San Diego’s most conservative districts, DeMaio voted for a resolution to support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, an equal benefits ordinance and a 65 feet Pride flag, among other things.
The conflation of DeMaio’s support of Proposition B, combined with union opposition, and the traditional ties between the LGBT and labor movement is also a tempting, but unconvincing answer as to what exactly prompted LGBT Pride parade attendees to boo the gay councilman. Mayor Sanders supported Proposition B (pension reform despised by the labor movement), yet the LGBT community would be more likely to give him a mass hug than a back-turning.
I think the true answer lies in two words: “we” and “us.” Often forgotten at election time, the ability to speak for “us” is actually one of the most powerful tools of elected officials, able to rally or calm the masses. Simply by saying “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” President Bush rallied nearly 90 percent support for attacks on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. When that effort achieved the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama largely pre-empted any celebrations by reminding us that “we don’t need to spike the football.”
I was reminded of this by the letter Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent to Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A. Cathy brought his corporation into the equality debate on the side of “traditional” marriage, praying for “God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
Menino responded “Here in Boston … we are ‘guilty as charged.’ We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and … are proud that our state and our city have led the way for the country on equal marriage rights.”
As a gay man, that’s what I want my next mayor to say when confronted with intolerance. Not a nuanced (if accurate) discussion of Mr. Cathy’s right to free speech. Not a hedge about the jobs we would lose if a restaurant chain was made uncomfortable. Even if it has no enforceability, I want a firm edict that says “We are San Diegans and we don’t stand for discrimination.”
More than union issues, the response to DeMaio at Pride was driven by the fear that he won’t make such statements. Despite his legislative record, it’s a legitimate concern given DeMaio’s campaign donor list and associations. A promise to continue Mayor Sanders’ vocal advocacy for marriage equality or a quick note of displeasure to Mr. Cathy might well put those issues in the past for LGBT voters, but DeMaio has thus far declined to allay their concerns.
I hope he soon will. Knowing that San Diego has two candidates who will speak of equality and diversity when they speak of “us” would put many of us at ease. Watching the dropping jaws of some DeMaio donors would be fun, too.
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