Our community is becoming more and more aware of our political clout, especially as public sentiment has slowly shifted and gay and lesbian couples are combining assets. In fact, one major force for change in the political landscape has been brought to you by LGBT donations into political campaigns.
A good indicator for how things have changed was Obama’s run for re-election in 2012, where LGBT money made a significant difference.
In the early 2000s, LGBT donations had, overall, been dropping, both in 2010 and 2014. The Center for Responsive Politics states that funds dropped 58 percent from the 2006 election cycle to the 2010 cycle. It dropped another 12 percent between 2010 and 2014 for most candidates.
However, after Obama announced marriage equality support in 2012, LGBT people donated to his campaign in record amounts. CNN reported that his announcement raised $8 million in four months. Sources at politico.com estimate the total donations contributed somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of Obama’s entire campaign contributions, between $11 million and $19.1 million.
When it comes to politicians backing LGBT equality and rights, it’s almost always also was a question of public sentiment. Only a few national politicians – outside of gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. – have stood against the zeitgeist. Adding to the complications are political campaigns (Or PACs) asking for election funds. Historically, many of these organizations did not accept a donation if they felt it was tied to the “gay agenda.”
It’s not hard to see why and how it’s been a struggle on both sides. In the 1980s, many local citizens spawned Stonewall Democrat groups. Their goal was to elect Democratic politicians who espoused the ideas of gay and lesbian equality. (Equality for bisexual and transgender people was a hotly argued platform in these groups for years).
Yet, local and national candidates in New York City, Boston, Cleveland and other cities often refused the funds that these small groups raised. One of the first campaigners to openly receive these funds was Rep. Barney Frank in 1987, the year he came out while running for his third term.
“We must work together – band our efforts together to the national party – to have the greatest effect for both of us,” Frank said in 1988 to his own Bay State Stonewall Democrat organization.
By 1990, Frank and others had successfully brought most of these organizations under the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs. When the group closed in 1998, communication resulted in the groups’ founding of the Washington-based National Stonewall Democratic Federation, also started also by Frank. That organization announced it suspended operations January 1, 2013, due to a $30,000 deficit.
Though Frank retired in 2013, his Bay State group still operates.
The other side of the aisle has had it tougher. The Log Cabin Republicans organized in 1977 to help fight the attempted California ban on gay teachers. As a native Californian, Ronald Reagan denounced the bill in his successful run for president, helping galvanize the group.
Even with that strong start, it took till 1992 for a national group to convene in Texas. That year, they refused to endorse George H.W. Bush’s election campaign, because the elder Bush would not denounce anti-gay rhetoric at the National Republican Convention.
In 1995, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole returned a $1000 donation to the group. His campaign sent a statement to the press saying they were in “100% disagreement with the agenda of the Log Cabin Republicans.” Later that year, Dole publicly regretted returning the funds, saying it was a decision made by his campaign chiefs without his knowledge.
“It gets into Bob Dole as a person,” he stated in a Washington Post interview. “Is he tolerant? Does he tolerate different views?” He also said that he believed his people made this decision for him, “because it sounds good politically.”
LGBT rights are still a hot button issue, even after marriage equality. In December 2015, six of the Republican presidential nominees say they would work in their first 100 days to rescind marriage equality; some like Jeb Bush still argue that it should’ve been a state’s issue.
On the Democratic side, both candidates support marriage equality. Bernie Sanders has been a long-term fighter. In 2014, on National Public Radio, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was challenged for her 2004 denouncement of marriage equality, while she was running against Barack Obama in the primaries. In the 2014 interview Clinton and host Terri Gross got into a heated exchange. Clinton explained that she has since become more “educated” on the subject, and now wholeheartedly supports it.
“LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones. And they are full and equal citizens, and they deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage,” Clinton’s campaign has stated.
These are conversations that just weren’t happening 15 years ago. Higher visibility, more political activity, public opinion, and need for funds have all conspired so that, now, politicians are listening to us.