Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Noncommercial reposting and reproduction encouraged, otherwise all rights reserved
On July 26, Johnathan Hale, publisher of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Pic magazine and various other Queer-themed publications in San Diego, released a “Letter to the Community” vigorously defending his partner, San Diego City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio, against the people who booed them in this year’s San Diego Pride Parade July 21. It’s a remarkable document that expresses the peculiar tunnel vision of both Mr. and Mrs. DeMaio and accuses the organizers and participants in the “Turn Your Back on DeMaio” campaign of violating the spirit of Pride and serving the interests of labor unions over those of the Queer community.
“First, let us recall how Pride came to be,” Hale writes. “The LGBT [Queer] community was tired of living closeted lives and we developed Pride events to show that we were, indeed, proud of who we are.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it ignores the centuries of oppression directed against Queer people at all levels of society, and the peculiar heady combination of political radicalism and sexual freedom of the late 1960’s that gave birth to the Queer movement and to Pride as its principal expressive event.
The late 1960’s were a time of inspiring struggles and intense frustrations. African-Americans had started a mass movement to demand that the promise of equality made to them in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution be honored after nearly a century of continued oppression. Their example inspired other communities of color, women and, eventually, Queer people to rise up as well. In addition, the U.S. got involved in an endless and pointless war in Viet Nam, and millions of Americans of all ages, races, genders and orientations joined together in the streets to stop the senseless waste of young lives and social resources in that war.
The myth that the entire Queer movement was started by a riot of drag queens and Transgender people at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in June 1969 has obscured the fact that Queer organizing occurred in the U.S. at least two decades before that. What’s more, most of the people who started the Queer movement were members of the political Left, from Harry Hay and the other ex-Communists who founded the Mattachine Society in 1950 to closeted Queer anti-war activists like Leo Laurence in San Francisco and Morris Kight in Los Angeles, who came out to join the new Queer movement. Though the Queer movement in general has moved away from its radical-Left origins and become more mainstream over time, most politically active Queers are at least liberal and associate themselves with the Democratic Party and a pro-civil rights, pro-labor, pro-social welfare agenda that favors the 99 percent over the 1 percent.
Carl DeMaio has chosen a different path. A Republican by voter registration and a Libertarian at heart, he has articulated a “roadmap to recovery” for San Diego that focuses on freezing city workers’ salaries, eliminating their pensions and outsourcing their jobs so that instead of the city’s work being done by unionized workers making middle-class wages, it will be done by private contractors hiring people at minimum wage. (I know this is Carl DeMaio’s economic plan because I’ve heard him speak about it.) He prides himself on his aggressive opposition to any new taxes, thereby keeping alive the mass delusion of San Diego’s voters that they can have a city with world-class services while paying the taxes of a dirt-road village. His whole political tendency is one that will increase economic inequality and keep the local, state and national economy stuck in what’s been called a “crisis of overproduction,” in which employers have done such a good job driving down wages that they stop investing because no one has the money to buy what they produce.
But with the tunnel vision that afflicts the DeMaio household, the only reason Hale can think of why people would boo him and his partner in the Pride Parade is that they were “putting their allegiance to labor union politics above what is right for the LGBT community and our efforts to achieve full equality.” What neither DeMaio nor Hale want San Diego’s Queer community to know is that DeMaio’s own campaign has shown an appalling willingness to put his own short-term political gain above what is right for the Queer community and our efforts to achieve full equality. It’s DeMaio’s hypocrisy and his willingness to suck up to the homophobes in the Republican Party to advance his campaign for mayor, not “labor union politics,” that is the reason he was booed in the Pride Parade and he has so little political support in the Queer community.
Let’s look at the record. Carl DeMaio won the endorsement of the San Diego County Republican Central Committee largely by pledging to abandon current San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ public support of the Queer community in general and marriage equality in particular. He assured them that he doesn’t think it’s the job of the mayor of San Diego to be involved in “social issues” — thereby setting their stone-cold homophobic hearts at ease that just because he’s a Gay man he won’t be using the mayoralty as a bully pulpit for Queer rights the way Sanders has done. What’s more, he attacked primary opponent Nathan Fletcher for voting for SB 48, the bill that would require California public schools to teach about the contributions of Queer people to American and Californian history — ironic in someone who’s promoting his mayoral candidacy as an epoch-making first for the Queer community.
And it’s even more ironic that Johnathan Hale should proclaim that Pride started because we were “tired of living closeted lives” when his own partner pushed him into the closet for political advantage. In order to get the endorsement of the San Diego Union-Tribune — whose publisher is the notorious homophobe Doug Manchester, who put up much of the seed capital that got the anti-marriage Proposition 8 on the ballot in the first place — Carl DeMaio represented to the U-T’s editorial board that he was “single.” If my husband were running for elective office, I know that he would want me at his side and he would acknowledge me publicly. He wouldn’t shove me back in the closet just to pick up a major endorsement.
What’s really unfortunate about Carl DeMaio’s hypocrisy and opportunism — his willingness to represent himself (or let his partner represent him) as part of “the LGBT community and our efforts to achieve full equality” when so many of his supporters are out and proud homophobes — is that DeMaio was uniquely positioned to make the case that just because you’re an economic and fiscal conservative, you don’t necessarily have to be against Queer equality as well. He could have taken the path of Mayor Sanders, who courageously spoke out for marriage equality and testified in the trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, aimed at declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
He could have taken the path of attorney Ted Olson, a thoroughgoing conservative who represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, served as Bush’s solicitor general (his administration’s lawyer before the Supreme Court) — and took up the challenge of suing the state to have Proposition 8 thrown out as the assault on equal protection and civil liberties it is. Or he could have taken the path of his primary opponent Bonnie Dumanis, who didn’t “disappear” her partner for campaign purposes. She legally married her during the 4 ½-month “window” between the California Supreme Court’s pro-marriage decision and the passage of Proposition 8, and called her out from the audience at the Center’s mayoral candidates’ forum to make clear her pride in her wife and their relationship.
Instead, Carl DeMaio has sucked up to the rankest homophobes in the Republican Party and has turned his back on the Queer community to do so. If he wins the mayoral election, it will be in spite of his being a Gay man. It will be because he will have persuaded enough of the voters who hate us that they don’t have to worry about him actually doing anything to help San Diego’s Queer community just because he’s at least behaviorally a member of it. There are plenty of other reasons to vote against Carl DeMaio besides his blaming city employees and their unions for all of San Diego’s economic woes, and the main one that got him booed at the Pride Parade was his willingness and, indeed, eagerness to sacrifice the rights of the Queer community to appease the Queer-haters he’s counting on to support, endorse and finance his campaign.
Johnathan Hale’s letter, to which this article is a response, can be read online at http://sdgln.com/commentary/2012/07/26/letter-community-real-lgbt-leaders-don-t-put-politics-above-pride-0