Oct 22, 2011 4:15 AM GMT
In NOVA, playing games with hate
Politics is the systematic organization of hatreds, said Henry Adams, whose statement is true but incomplete. Sometimes it's not all that systematic. Take the contest currently under way in Virginia's 32nd Senate District.
Patrick Forrest is running against incumbent Janet Howell. Forrest is a Republican, which everyone knows. He is also gay. Not everyone knows that, but some Democrats in Northern Virginia — including Howell, Forrest says — are trying to educate them.
Forrest says a number of conservatives have told him, "We heard you're a homosexual." He has told them he is and has always been openly gay. As Forrest tells the tale, they have said they learned about it from Democratic volunteers, who also told them Forrest "would be promoting the homosexual agenda in our schools." Nice.
That somebody is gay-baiting seems beyond dispute. Forrest's field director, Eric Newland, recorded a conversation with Kavita Imarti, a precinct captain for the Democratic Party in Reston. On the recording, made at a party earlier this month, a seemingly drunk Imarti defends the tactic.
When Newland asks if "it's okay for the campaign to be telling people" about Forrest's sexual orientation, Imarti responds: "Yes! Because you guys are racist [expletives]. . . . You're racist [expletive-expletives]. You guys are prejudiced against someone because of their sexuality. We are basically pinpointing your prejudice."
(Those People are always making sweeping generalizations about other classes of people. Don't you just hate that.)
The message to conservative Republicans, Imarti goes on, is: "He's gay! You guys say you're anti-gay but you have a gay candidate. What you gonna do now?"
Imarti does not work for the Howell campaign, which "categorically den[ies] we are sending any messages to Republican voters on Patrick's sexuality or otherwise." Howell also told the Washington Blade, the gay-oriented newspaper that broke the story, she is "deeply offended that Patrick Forrest would lie like this." Pretty emphatic. One of these two candidates is clearly lying. Whom to believe?
When Newland asks Imarti if the whispers are "coming from the campaign," she responds with an emphatic "Yes!" What's more, Forrest claims two GOP lawmakers — state Sen. Mark Obenshain and Del. Barbara Comstock — say Howell told them about his batting for the other team. On the other hand Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of Equality Virginia, a gay-rights group, finds the very idea that Howell would do such a thing "silly."
Obenshain tells the Blade that Howell referred to Forrest as a RINO, a Republican in Name Only. "She ticked off three of four things that would, I guess, indicate he was not conservative . . . including that he had a partner."
Howell's role in the current contretemps is murky. Other angles on the story, however, are not.
First, the Virginia Republican Party still displays considerable hostility to gays and lesbians. That hostility is indefensible.
Second, the GOP's homophobia will disappear as more Republicans' family members and friends come out of the closet. Just look at Vice President Dick Cheney. He has a gay daughter, Mary — and he supports gay marriage. Probably not just a coincidence. Perhaps nothing would do more good for the cause of tolerance in Virginia than to have an openly gay member at every meeting of the House Republican caucus.
For one thing, such a member could point out that there is no "homosexual agenda." That gays and lesbians are not trying to convert unsuspecting children to their "lifestyle." That trying to stop the relentless bullying of gay and lesbian teenagers is not part of some sneaky recruitment drive.
The GOP lawmaker might even share with his party colleagues the words of comedian Liz Feldman: "It's very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage. Or as I like to call it: 'marriage.' You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. I parked my car; I didn't gay park it." Some of them would probably get it.
The third important angle to the Forrest-is-gay story is this: A person's sexuality is his business. Nobody else's. This point is all too sadly lost on the state's GOP, which fails to understand that much of the alleged homosexual agenda boils down to a politically conservative message. Isaiah Berlin described it as negative liberty. Less cerebral thinkers would put it this way: Leave people the hell alone.
Final point — this one for state Democrats: One person's prejudice does not give anyone else a free pass to exploit it. The South used to have a gawdawful lot of racial bigots. Many of them didn't know any better. But the national GOP did — and yet it developed the "Southern Strategy" of exploiting that prejudice. The party's pursuit of short-term political gains led to its lasting shame. (Six years ago, Republican Del. Brad Marrs accused his opponent of accepting "another big donation from a wealthy homosexual businessman." The accusation backfired, and Marrs lost.)
Likewise, Democrats in Northern Virginia know better than to harp on a candidate's sexuality. Doing so might bring them short-term gain. But playing to homophobia is a form of participating in it.
To paraphrase Imarti: You guys say you're pro-gay, but you're running an anti-gay whisper campaign. What you gonna do about it?