Public Squabbling Erupts Between Gay Political Groups
Tafel & Birch Exchange Argumentative Open Letters
Compiled By GayToday
Washington, D.C.—On February 11, The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), riled because the nation's largest gay and lesbian political group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), had endorsed Vice-president Al Gore's bid for the presidency, claimed in a press release that HRC, far from being a bipartisan group, is instead the "Voice of the Gay Democratic Establishment."
Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans critiqued HRC's political savvy:
"If you were a single issue gay Democratic organization, you'd have little choice but to support Bill Bradley. So, it is no surprise when a gay Democratic establishment organization makes an early and unanimous endorsement of the Democratic establishment candidate.
"It is especially unsurprising after they publicly admit it was timed to do the most damage to Bradley, who scores better on many of the key issues on HRC's overall issues checklist. What is surprising, however, is that HRC still claims to be a bipartisan organization. HRC has made some important inroads into the Democratic Party, and would be better off embracing its hard-won position as a powerful player there and not hold out the myths of bi-partisanship and that their issues checklist governs endorsements."
Tafel continued: "If HRC were bi-partisan, they would have put a premium on having the courtesy of sitting down in a formal meeting with Senator McCain before making an endorsement, but it's clear that internal Democratic Party politics were more crucial to them. The Republicans on HRC's board who voted to join in this internal Democratic Party struggle forfeited any credible opportunity to change HRC's image. The dramatic struggle going on right now in the Republican Party, which has captured the nation's attention, is likely to have a much greater impact on the future of gay Americans, and HRC has written off any chance of playing even a minor role in it."
Following Tafel's broadside, Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, released an open letter to him dated Wednesday, February 16. It said:
"Dear Mr. Tafel,
"Name-calling and misrepresentation for political gain is counterproductive and helps no one except our adversaries on the extreme right. Your organization - often the recipient of ad hominem attacks - should be acutely aware of this, and therefore know better.
"HRC has long supported the mission of LCR because we recognize that the passage of laws banning discrimination requires bipartisan support. We applaud your organization for working within the Republican party to gain backing for such measures. LCR has been an agent of change, and HRC is grateful for your group's past contributions in helping to create a world where gay and lesbian Americans can live openly, with dignity and respect.
"However, we take great exception to LCR's accusation that our endorsement of Gore 'perpetuates HRC's long-cited image as the voice of the Democratic establishment, not the 'bipartisan' organization it claims to be.' As you know, HRC has supported and continues to support candidates who champion our issues regardless of party affiliation.
"In this election cycle there are clear-cut differences between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Al Gore has a long history of support for our community and we believe he is our best bet for achieving equality and acceptance in the new millennium. Gore has been in the forefront of advancing gay and lesbian issues, as well as fighting against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"While Gore spoke at a Human Rights Campaign press conference last week, Bush was speaking at Bob Jones University, and McCain was defending the flying of the Confederate flag over South Carolina's capitol building. This clearly symbolizes which voters each party's candidates are trying to reach.
"It is hardly HRC's fault that the rhetoric and records of both Democratic presidential candidates is undeniably superior to that of their Republican counterparts.
"As the group representing gay Republicans, we understand your organization's obvious disappointment and frustration with this year's crop of GOP presidential candidates. It has left you with the dubious options of supporting either Pat Robertson-backed George W. Bush or Gary Bauer-backed John McCain, who recently said that homosexuality "is a lifestyle I don't approve of."
"Nevertheless, your disenchantment with the GOP field is no reason to assail HRC for endorsing the best candidate, who simply happens to be a Democrat. Instead of attacking HRC, we urge you to continue the worthy endeavor of educating the GOP leadership, and narrowing the current disparity between the two parties on our issues.
Rich Tafel thereupon responded, creating a more familiar tone by addressing the HRC director by her first name:
"First, my statements were carefully worded not to be an attack. You have an important, and, at times, thankless role, and I appreciate what you and your organization does. So, we were careful not to attack. As you point out, we have too often borne the brunt of ad hominem attacks-- even from HRC.
"Our goal was to remind you that when you speak as "the largest bipartisan gay and lesbian organization in the country," a certain responsibility comes with that. First and foremost is to live up to the mission you've articulated. Endorsing Al Gore over Bill Bradley wouldn't concern anyone if you were speaking as a Democratic organization. But that's not what happened.
"The reason we need to challenge what you've done is that you claim to be one thing, a bipartisan, one-issue organization, and you do something else, that is, behave as a Democratic establishment team player. I value Democratic establishment team players and I know that many respect our work in the GOP. But that's not what HRC claims to be.
"You said you 'dream of a day when presidential candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties vie for the support of gay and lesbian Americans. When this occurs we will have essentially won our fight - at least on the political front - for equality.' We both share that dream. The question is how to we make that dream a reality. The answer is that each of us must play our role with integrity.
"You tell us that 'it is hardly HRC's fault that the rhetoric and records of both Democratic presidential candidates is undeniably superior to that of their Republican counterparts.'
"Elizabeth, I don't know if it is anyone's fault. But for your twenty years your organization has claimed to educate Republicans and Democrats on our issues. If there is such a great disparity, doesn't a truly bi-partisan organization, in fact, share the responsibility for that result? The success among gay Democrats is clear. But your ability to educate Republicans has been less successful.
"LCR was created for this purpose. And we were created because organizations that claimed to be bipartisan, were, in fact, simply Democratic in reality. If you claim to be a bipartisan organization that has been around for twenty years educating Democrats and Republicans, then you must also accept that the failure of GOP candidates to understand and support our issues to your liking is indeed your responsibilty. To claim bipartisanship and then say 'it's not our fault' that Republicans don't live up to your expectations is very inconsistent.
LCR has had some success of changing the tenor of our party. It has been a tough and lonely fight. We accept that. We're not in this to be liked, but to fight for change. But, when an organization that claims to work equally within both parties then endorses before they even know the nominees of each party, and admits that the move was designed to help decide the primaries in one party, that undermines our overall message as a movement.
"The message should reflect the reality that the gay vote can be won by Republicans and Democrats who support our issues. Your message is that gay vote overall is only a factor in the Democrat Party, telling Democrats that we are safely in their back pocket and telling Republicans that they can once again ignore our concerns.
"Had you come to your conclusion after a process based in integrity, we would have no issue with your position. Had you come to the conclusion as a gay Democratic organization, we would have no problem with your position. (Though, frankly, I'd be puzzled in the same way Bradley was by NARAL's endorsement of Gore.)
"As long as you claim to objectively work in both parties, we'll continue to hold you to that. There is a lot of work to do in the GOP,and we are very aware of it. Your endorsement of Gore at this time, and the clear reasons behind it, only makes our work more difficult in the long run.
"During this season of partisan politics, we are sure to disagree again. I hope that you don't view these differences in strategy as attacks, but instead view them as a healthy debate among two organizations that ultimately share the goal of one day achieving equality.
"We look forward to working with you on our common goals.
Neither LCR's Rich Tafel nor HRC's Elizabeth Birch mentioned HRC's bipartisan endorsement of former New York Republican Senator Al D'Amato who lost to his Democratic rival, Senator Charles Schumer in New York's 1998 election. That endorsement infuriated hundreds of gay activists, many of whom cancelled their HRC memberships, writing angry letters to the Human Rights Campaign complaining about its Republican bi-partisanship.