By Tammye Nash – Senior Editor

Log Cabin leader says Prop 8 passage shows Obama supporters made the difference in anti-gay measure’s success

Erin Moore

As LGBT leaders across the country exulted in Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential race, LGBT Democrats in North Texas were joining in the celebration.

Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and co-chair of the national Obama Pride effort, was one of the hundreds of Democrats gathered in the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff Tuesday, Nov. 4, for an election returns watch party. The whole night, he said, "was just so amazing."

"When they called it for Obama, I looked over at Juan Ayala, another gay Latino, and we both just started bawling," Garcia said. "To see someone of that stature elected president was inspiring. And as a minority, I think, it gives us hope. It says that if we ever choose to run for office, even the highest office, we have a chance to win."

During the Democratic Primary, Garcia was an ardent supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton. But, he said, in May when it became obvious that the nomination would go to Obama, Garcia did not hesitate to switch his allegiance.

"About mid-May, when I was realizing that Hillary wouldn’t win, I also began to realize that she and Obama weren’t that different," Garcia said. "They have different leadership styles, yes, but they are the same on the issues, especially LGBT issues. And it helped that [Obama] really reached out to the LGBT community then. He said the right things."

Erin Moore, the Stonewall vice president who was also an Obama delegate to the national Democratic Convention, said Wednesday, Nov. 5, that the significance of the election was still sinking in.

"Oh my god! It’s amazing! I am still kind of in disbelief," she said. "As a Democrat, we’re not used to winning."

Moore said Obama’s victory means that fortunes are turning, for the LGBT community and for the country as a whole.

"This is the chance we needed to restore the world’s faith in us as a country. This is a chance for the LGBT community to have hope again," she said. "Everything opens up now. Everything is a possibility instead of a negative."

Garcia said that Obama’s approach to the campaign and now, to his impending presidency, will help bring a sense of calm to a country, and a world, faced with multiple crises.

"He is surrounding himself with people who really bring something to the table, people who are truly knowledgable, not just people who are out for themselves," Garcia said. "We are in a time of crisis, and the people he picks for his cabinet and as his advisors are people who will bring creative ideas on how to face the crisis and overcome it."

For Moore, having Obama in the White House gives the LGBT community a chance for real progress in securing equality.

"He mentions our community in almost every speech he gives. We are definitely on his mind as a constituency, as a community, and that’s a real change from where we have been," she said. I expect to see a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed. I expect to see the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ These obviously aren’t his top priorities when he gets into office. But they are definitely on the table."

But Rob Schlein, president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, said his Democratic counterparts are going to be disappointed.

"It doesn’t surprise me [that Obama won] because I think a lot of people voted with their emotions. And when you do that, you don’t look at the facts," Schlein said. "I don’t think we will see a lot of advancement, especially not early on. Bill Clinton tried to get rid of the ban on gays in the military early in his first term, and it really backfired. I think Obama will avoid those contentious issues early on."

Of Obama’s promises to the LGBT community, Schlein said, "Talk is cheap. We heard those same kinds of promises from [House Majority Leader] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid when they took over in Congress. The activists said then that they would demand some changes and that they wouldn’t have to just wait around anymore. But we are still here waiting."

Jubilant Obama supporters gaze at the big-screen monitor set up at the street party in the Bishop Arts District on Tuesday night as President-elect Barack Obama delivers his victory speech via television from Chicago. – PRAVEEN SATHIANATHAN/Dallas Voice

Schlein said, LGBT Democrats have to look no further than votes on anti-gay marriage amendments in Florida and California for proof that a Democratic victory is not synonymous with the advancement of gay rights.

"In California, the most liberal of liberal states, about 3 million people voted for John McCain, and about 6 million voted to ban gay marriage," he said. "That means that, if every Republican voted to ban gay marriage — which I don’t think was the case — then there were still 3 million Democrats who voted to ban gay marriage.

"That tells me there is still a lot of work to do in the Democratic Party. And it tells me that people have got to get beyond the idea that all Democrats are for us and all Republicans are against us," Schlein continued. "The Stonewall people have a lot of work to do in their party to modify attitudes among those Democrats that are against [gay rights]. The work’s not done just because Obama is president."

But for Garcia and Moore, although they were disappointed in the amendment votes especially in California, Obama’s win is still a very bright light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

"People haven’t really been proud of America in a long time," Garcia said. "The war, the economy — it’s like people have been waiting and waiting for good things to happen, and they never did. But now, it feels like the worst is finally over. Change really is coming."

Moore added, "We can breathe again. We don’t have to be on constant vigilance now, and we can instead focus on undoing some of the wrongs of the past rather than fighting off a new threat. We can actually move forward a little bit. Won’t that be nice for a chance?

"We have had, for so long, to always hold our breath, hoping that whatever happened next wouldn’t really be that bad," she said. "Now, we can breathe again, and now we can hope for something good for a change."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 7, 2008.

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