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Michelle Obama Headlines Gay Democratic Dinner

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jun 25, 2008

Michelle Obama, wife of presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, will give the keynote address at the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council Gala Thursday night, June 26, in the Starlight Room at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Michelle Obama be joined at the event by Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, New York First Lady Michelle Paterson, and President of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors David Cicilline.

The occasion marks the first significant fund raiser by the Democratic party since Obama became the presumptive nominee for this year's presidential election.

The fund raiser will consist of a reception scheduled to commence at 6:30 p.m., with dinner to follow at 7:30.

The event also marks the Ninth Annual Gala of the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council of the Democratic Committee. The theme of the event is "You Hold the Key," specifically, to The White House, Congress, and Equality, according to the online annoucement for the event.

In recent years, the Democratic party has had trouble maintaining its image as the defender of GLBT equality.

One especially troublesome episode involved the firing of the DNC's Gay and Lesbian Leaders hip Council's executive director, Donald Hitchcock, who found himself jettisoned from the DNC a week after the circulation of a letter criticizing the DNC's chairman, Howard Dean, and the Democratic party generally.

The letter had been written by Paul Yandura, Hitchcok's partner, who himself had been closely associated with the Democratic party. But Yandura felt that the Democratic party was holding back in the matter of GLBT rights, especially marriage equality; in his letter, Yandura expressed disappointment that the DNC and the Democratic party had not done enough to counter efforts by the right wing to amend state constitutions in a way that bars access to marriage by gay and lesbian families.

The firing led to a lawsuit against the DNC and several of its officials, including Dean. In the suit, Hitchcock alleged that he had been the victim of discrimination and unjust termination, as well as the object of a smear campaign meant to depict him as incompetent at his job.

Meantime, Brian Bond, previously the executive director for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, was hired to replace Hitchcock as the head of the DNC's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council, a post Bond assumed in May of 2006.

In an interview that same month with The Advocate, Bond addressed the issue brought up by Yandura's letter, speaking about the DNC's role in resisting efforts by the right wing to eradicate legal rights and legal recognition for gay and lesbian families, and praising DNC chairman Howard Dean for focusing on the training of the next generation of GLBT political leaders.

Said Bond in the Advocate interview, "One of the things Governor Dean has done very well with the staff here is to start and put an infrastructure in place that starts bringing people up through the process. They are doing an incredible amount of training that I don't think they are getting credit for, quite frankly."

In terms of whether Hitchcock was fired as a result of Yandura's letter, Bond was careful to say nothing that could be construed as an affirmation of that notion. When asked if he worried about being fired for anything his own partner might say, Bond replied, "No. First of all, I trust my partner beyond a shadow of a doubt," a response that did not indicate that the DNC would avoid retaliation for any such hypothetical criticisms from Bond's partner.

The Advocate then explored the issue further, asking, "Some people are saying the reason your predecessor is gone is because of what his partner was saying publicly. Do you agree?"

Bonds replied, "I think timing in this whole situation is what it was. It's apples and oranges. I don't think they had anything to do with each other. It was a timing issue."

But the timing of what? Bonds did not elaborate; later in the interview, Bonds made reference to "the infamous Yandura letter," and offered nebulous bromides about "respect[ing] everyone who has criticisms right now."

Still later, when asked about the extent to which the anti-gay constitutional amendments that passed in a number of states in the 2004 election drove the overall election results, Bonds responded with what sounded like an uncomfortable deflection, saying, "I need to focus on the future instead of second-guessing some of this."

The overall effect of the interview was that it was possible to come away with the feeling that critics of the Democratic party had a valid point in charging that the Democrats were willing to leave their gay and lesbian constituency behind in order to avoid alienating straight voters.

But as the candidates for this year's election have continued with their campaigns, the Democrats have slowly begun to rehabilitate their image, courting GLBT voters and standing up in ways that the Republicans avoided. Last summer, several of the Democratic hopefuls for the nomination participated in a televised debate on GLBT issues; when the Republican contenders were invited to do the same, not a single one of the major names on the roster would commit.

And although Barack Obama has said that he does not support marriage equality, he has come out in favor of granting some measure of legal recognition and protection to gay and lesbian families.

For the presumptive nominee's wife to headline a gala put on by the DNC's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council might be seen by some as evidence that the GLBT vote is being taken seriously once again by the Democrats. Whether that translates into useful policies remains to seen--assuming, of course, that Obama is victorious over McCain in November.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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