We’ve seen it a lot lately, too often not to be able to start drawing some conclusions.
We see it in states like New York and Maryland that now have full civil rights protections for gays and lesbians but have thus far chosen to leave their transgender citizens and the families that depend on them unprotected targets for the bigotry of landlords and business owners who operate in their states.
We see it in a president who, as far back as 2007, issued an op-ed to LGBT media in which he promised to use the weight of his administration to see the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed into law but has completely and utterly failed to honor that promise in any way, even refusing to do as little as sign an executive order to protect the LGBT employees of companies that do business with the federal government.
Most of all we see it in Democrats in Congress who, despite decades of promises to working-class LGBT Americans that they’d pass ENDA into law once they had the political clout to get the job done, failed to even bring the bill up for a vote in either house during the 111th Congress, when they had full control of both houses and the White House. No reasons, no excuses, no explanations. The Democratic Party leadership just made the promises that they knew working-class LGBT Americans desperately wanted and needed to hear and then crushed our hopes for a better life like a paper cup by never making even the slightest effort to honor them. In fact, to this day the Democratic Party leadership still hasn’t deigned to offer us the simple courtesy of explaining to the harshly persecuted minority that is our community’s working class why they couldn’t keep the promises they made to us so freely and so eagerly when they needed our donations and votes to attain the political power that put them in a position to keep those promises in the first place.
As we watch all these people rushing to fall in lockstep to hypocritically proclaim how much they support same-sex marriage rights even as they completely ignore our right to work, the issue that most directly affects the ability of any married couple to create a safe and comfortable life for themselves and their family, it becomes clearer and clearer that the thread tying all these realities together isn’t some surge of progressivism on the part of Democrats. If that were the case, ENDA would have been passed into law in the 111th Congress. At minimum, the bill certainly would have gotten at least a vote. No, the real thread connecting all these sudden expressions of support for same-sex marriage rights can be summed up in one word: money.
On my weekly radio talk show the way I like to illustrate for my listeners the difference between the way the Democrats and the Republicans deal with LGBT issues of equality is by saying that most Republicans will tell you right to your face that they won’t support your equal treatment under the law, while the Democrats will want to know how much it’s worth to you.
LGBT Americans are under no illusions as to whether most Republicans are willing to advocate their fair and equal treatment under the law. We know that they’re not on our side, because they have no hesitation in saying so publicly, or even in campaigning for office on a platform of denying us basic civil rights.
Democrats, on the other hand, have apparently determined that making promises to working-class LGBT Americans to fight for our rights to gain our money and our votes at election time is good politics, but actually keeping those promises once safely elected to office is not. The only thing that has been shown to be able to alter that calculus is when an organization like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) starts shoveling mountains of cash into Democratic Party campaign coffers with the obvious and well-demonstrated understanding that those donations are purchasing public support of same-sex marriage rights.
After witnessing President Obama’s continuing post-election refusal to sign an executive order that would protect thousands of hardworking LGBT Americans from discrimination in their workplaces, it’s now clear that the Democratic Party has turned basic civil rights for LGBT Americans from an ideal they claim to be actively working toward into nothing less than a cash business, marketing their attention to and political support for the issues that matter most in our lives as a salable commodity, one that can and will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
HRC and like-minded organizations have demonstrated that they understand this new reality well and are willing to sign those huge checks to ensure that the attention of the president and Democrats in Congress will remain focused on marriage, the issue of greatest importance to the wealthiest and best-connected gay and lesbian elites, and not on workplace rights, the key issue for the poorest and least politically potent members of our community. These folks understand, as we should, that support from today’s Democratic Party for LGBT equality has very little to do with what’s right and fair for LGBT working families and everything to do with what’s best and most profitable for the Democratic Party and its legislators.
Of course, what the D.C. Democrats who are putting American civil rights on the auction block and their customers in the marriage movement apparently fail to realize is that there are a lot more of us than there are of them, and we vote, too. Republicans aren’t the only ones who can find themselves facing primary challenges from within their own base, made by constituent groups that become sick and tired of the way they and the issues they care about most have been treated by the people they put into office. The GOP isn’t the only political party in this country that can find itself not only losing support for their reelection efforts by failing to represent the values they campaigned on but actually turning voters away from their party in search of a better, more responsive alternative.
The truth is that today’s Democratic Party doesn’t value the support of LGBT working-class families and doesn’t feel that it has any obligation to fight for us. Democrats will say and do whatever they feel they need to do to gain our votes, but they continue proving to us over and over that their interest in proactively fighting for our basic civil rights in Washington comes to an end the moment the election does, when the idealistic promises of progress fade away like they never existed, but the profiteering on support for American civil rights continues unabated.
As someone who’s worked in the retail industry for most of her working career, I know that one of the most basic rules of retail sales is that when you treat people badly, when you consistently fail to deliver on your promises, when you continually misrepresent the truth to those who are relying on what you tell them, you shouldn’t be at all surprised when those who used to count on you and keep you in business finally get fed up with that kind of treatment and start shopping around for a better deal.
The Democratic Party seems to have learned how to monetize political support for American equality quite well, but they haven’t yet learned that in order to keep the cash flowing in reliably, you have to prioritize the needs of the buyer, not the seller. Many promising retail businesses that no longer exist failed because they never learned this simple lesson.
If the Democratic Party continues on its present course, it may get by for a while on momentum, but sooner or later it will discover that, just as in the relationship between a retail business and its customers, no political party or politician is immune from the possibility of being abandoned by a constituency that no longer believes it’s being properly served. It’s a lesson every successful business owner and manager has taken to heart in order to beat out the competition. Customer service is king in D.C., too, and it doesn’t take being a career retail worker like me to understand that there can be no lasting success in either business or politics without it.
Here’s hoping that the Democratic Party will do what it must, and soon enough to avoid being forced to learn this lesson the hard way. If Democrats can’t muster the fortitude to do at least that much for LGBT working families, then they’d be smart to start preparing for the not-too-distant day in the future when real progressives, Americans who believe justice and equality are the birthright of every American and not luxury retail products for Democrats to make a profit selling to those who can afford them, will start pushing them out of way.
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