The Politics of Hate

Rick Perry in anti-gay ad

Rick Perry in the anti-gay ad

The Republican candidates for Presidential elections in US should remember that dinosaurs don’t win races, writes Vernon O’Reilly Ramesar

On November 6th, 2012, citizens of the United States will head to the polls for the 57th time to choose their President. As usual, it will come down to a candidate from the Democratic Party (this time President Barack Obama) against a candidate from the Republican Party. What does this mean to the other 6.7 billion people on the planet? A lot! US policy, despite its declining influence, still has a profound effect on the rest of the world. The US might be a flagging economic power but it is still a potent military force and a big stick can always wield influence in the world. Ask Iraq.
For the LGBT community, though, the outcome of the Presidential election holds even higher stakes. After years of George ‘Dubya’ Bush, the US saw Obama move, albeit at glacial speed, to advance issues of equality. Two notable developments were the Matthew Shepard Act (which expanded hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity – named after Matthew Shepard who was tortured and left to die on a fence because he was gay) and the repeal of the vile Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) law that prevented Lesbian or Gay US servicemen and servicewomen from serving openly. The dispersed and diverse nature of the LGBT community means that the struggle against marginalization has become global . The internet has been a major force in bringing together LGBT interest groups and individuals from across the world and rendering national borders virtually irrelevant. Given the importance of the US in the modern LGBT rights movement, political developments there can have international implications. Keep in mind in a very few years the US has gone from Bush’s apathy/antipathy towards queer people to Obama’s semi-embracing position and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “Gay Rights are Human Rights” speech at the UN.

Barack Obama is not the problem though; the real problem is the slate of candidates from the Republican Party– the GOP (Grand Old Party) – which is turning into the race of the homophobes. The candidates, who are still going through a ‘primary’ process to select a leader, have varying views but are generally united in their disdain for equal rights for gay people. Some of the more extreme Republican candidates have already dropped out including Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry. Bachmann was possibly the most homophobic in the race. She and her strange looking husband run a ‘reparative therapy’ clinic to ‘cure’ gay people in Minneapolis (or maybe it is just a place for him to get dates). The overtly homophobic Rick Perry is also out of the race. In his desperation he ran a homophobic TV commercial called ‘Strong” that expressed horror that gay people are allowed to serve openly in the US military but kids can’t pray in US schools. Don’t hurt your head looking for a connection between the two – there isn’t one and the latter part isn’t even true.

The remaining candidates are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick ‘Frothy’ Santorum . They share much in common as they are all white, relatively wealthy and male. Their privileged position makes them deeply offended at the thought of others being granted the same rights as them. To hear the candidates debate is to listen to a group of men who want to take America back to an imagined time of heteronormative perfection; a time of perfect nuclear families with a working father, a housewife mother, two well-behaved kids and not a homo in sight. Sadly, for the candidates, such a time only really existed on television. The fact of the matter is they are marching their way into irrelevance. They are preaching to a choir that is shrinking with every passing year. The majority of the US population now supports same-sex marriage which is a huge leap from the 25% who supported it in 1996. This is a trend the Republican’s choose to ignore – a decision that will put them on exactly the wrong side of history.

It is probably no accident that the most seemingly moderate candidate has been doing the best of late. Mitt Romney, a Mormon with seven children is opposed to same-sex marriage but says he has no intention of reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and generally steers clear of smearing LGBT people. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Rick Santorum who has been in a battle with the gay community for many years. The backlash of remarks he made that essentially equated homosexuality with bestiality and child molestation was that columnist Dan Savage redefined his name online. Google Santorum and see what the first result is. Santorum’s extreme views including his stand against gay marriage and his announcement that he would reinstate DADT, are the reasons why many LGBT activists are watching his progress with concern.

Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich are another study in contrasts. Paul believes in a strict adherence to the US Constitution, small government and minimal governmental interference in the private lives of citizens. He supported the repeal of DADT but does not currently support same-sex marriage. Gingrich, a former Speaker of the house, on the other hand, is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. He is really fond of the sanctity because he is now in his third marriage. He has also pledged an ‘extensive review’ of DADT. All of this while having an outspoken lesbian sister; only goes to prove that politics is even thicker than blood.

Today’s Republican Party is strongly influenced by Evangelical Christians who have shaped the party’s position on numerous social issues. This has led to a party which blurs the line between religion and politics in a country that is ostensibly pluralistic. There is constant reference to the nation’s “Judeo Christian” roots and talk of Obama’s ‘war on religion’. All of this appeals to the core Evangelical supporters but it is increasingly alienating mainstream America. The vast majority of American’s are not Evangelical Christians and this is reflected in an increasing tolerance and even acceptance of groups on the margins. America is becoming a kinder, gentler place but when it comes to LGBT issues the GOP isn’t. The Republican candidates would do well to keep in mind – dinosaurs don’t win races.