Hundreds of LGBT delegates headed to Denver
by Lisa Keen
The LGBT caucus to next month's Democratic National Convention may well be one of the most eclectic groups ever.
Horacio Sierra is a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of Florida, with a dissertation entitled "Sanctified Subversives: Depictions of Righteous and Rebellious Nuns in English and Spanish Renaissance Literature." Mirian Saez is the director of San Francisco's Treasure Island development. David Munar is an executive with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Colleen Cooke is a professor of therapeutic recreation at Slippery Rock University near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sue Lovell is vice mayor pro tem of Houston, Texas. Steve Driscoll is an opera choreographer turned pro-wrestling promoter from Massachusetts.
And it may well be the largest. National Stonewall Democrats, the national gay Democratic group, expects more than 300 openly LGBT delegates, alternates, and other participants in "the gay caucus" next month at the Democratic convention in Denver. Stonewall has been scrambling for weeks to assemble the names and numbers and still hasn't identified them all. But from what data it has collected, it appears the caucus will include 305 delegates – at least 84 of whom supported Hillary Clinton during the primary, 74 of whom supported the expected nominee Barack Obama. Stonewall does not know who the other 147 support.
At the 2004 convention in Boston, the caucus numbered 254 strong, from 43 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and abroad. The roughly 20 percent increase in numbers this year is due at least in part to a stronger effort by Stonewall and the party to make sure openly LGBT delegates were elected or selected. Stonewall launched a "Pride in the Party" effort to encourage openly LGBT people to run for delegate slots.
Each state Democratic Party set "outreach goals" for ensuring diversity and most states designated a specific percentage of its delegates and alternates to be "LGBT Americans." Some nailed it, some failed it, but some exceeded it.
The Illinois Democratic Party, for instance, stipulated that 5.4 percent of its 210 delegates and alternates be gay. That meant 10, and the state party has 10 openly LGBT people on the roster. Texas set a range of between 6 and 8 percent – or 14 to 18 delegates – and Stonewall said the state has 20.
California decided on 12 percent LGBT participants, or 53 of the 440 delegates. As of deadline, the count was up to only 51, according to Stonewall. Michigan, too, is a little short of its goal for six (4 percent); it has only four openly LGBT delegates.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party, for instance, stipulated that 6.8 percent of its 121 delegates be gay. That meant eight and, according to Stonewall, the state party has 13 openly LGBT people on the roster. Ohio, too, exceeded its goal (10), by electing 16.
Pennsylvania did not set a goal for LGBT participants, but its roster includes at least 10, which is about 5 percent of the 187 delegates.
Maryland set a goal – five delegates, or 5 percent – but then didn't include an identifying box delegates could use to self-identify as LGBT, said Stonewall spokesman John Marble. The organization has, however, been able to find at least three who are openly gay.
No gay delegates
Eight states, so far, have no self-identified LGBT delegates: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. California has the largest LGBT contingent with 51, followed by Florida with 25, and Texas with 20. San Francisco has the largest city delegation, with eight LGBT members, followed by Dallas and New York City with seven each, Washington, D.C. with six, and Houston with five.
Rick Boylan, former director of party affairs and delegate selection at the Democratic National Committee, headed up the Pride in the Party effort for Stonewall. He said that, in 2004, only 16 states had set goals for including LGBT members and representatives of other diverse groups; this year, all but one or two states did. He said the Democratic Party's LGBT caucus leader, Rick Stafford of Minnesota, "worked with Stonewall and basically pushed state parties to set realistic goals."
Driscoll said that there are technically two LGBT caucuses at this year's convention – one that functions as a Democratic Party caucus and one that functions as a Stonewall Democrats entity.
While Stafford of Minnesota is head of the party LGBT Caucus, Driscoll is co-chair of the Stonewall caucus, along with Laurie McBride of California. The two caucuses will meet on alternating days during the convention.
"There's no real difference in membership," said Driscoll, "and both are open to the public." The Stonewall caucus focuses on development of chapters and local affiliates; the Democratic Party caucus focuses on party relations and the platform.
Even though there is growing talk of a fight in Denver over whether the convention will have a first ballot that includes Clinton's name, and even though a lot of LGBT delegates have been Clinton supporters, Driscoll said he doesn't expect "acrimony" at the convention.
Most of Clinton's LGBT supporters, he said, "are absolutely onboard the Obama nomination."
"All of us Clinton delegates are getting e-mail and calls from disgruntled Clinton delegates who are insisting she be nominated on the first ballot," said Driscoll, who has been a delegate to Democratic conventions on three previous occasions. "And if Senator Clinton asks us to vote for her on the first ballot and that does not diminish Obama's nomination, I will be happy to. But on the other hand, if I think it's something deleterious to the nominee, I'm going to think twice."
Meanwhile, an online poll this month of 175 LGBT adults found that 60 percent support Democrat Barack Obama for president in November, while only 14 percent think they'll vote for Republican John McCain. Almost 10 percent favor some other candidate, and about 17 percent say they just aren't sure yet who they'll support.
Obama's support among LGBT people is significantly stronger than among registered voters in general. Among registered voters, only 44 percent say they favor the Democrat, compared to 60 percent of gays.
McCain's support among LGBT people is significantly weaker – while 35 percent of registered voters say they'll vote for him, less than half that percentage are ready to do so among gay adults.
The survey was conducted by the Harris Poll between July 3-11 and involved 2,960 adults, of which about 6 percent – or 175 – self-identified as LGBT.