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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Vote for Gay Candidate Was a Vote for Tolerance

July 06, 1994|ROBIN ABCARIAN | Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays

Am I guilty of the worst kind of bigotry by casting a vote for someone because he is gay?

That's why I voted last month for Tony Miller, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. And some readers were offended. Voting for a candidate purely because of his sexual orientation, they said, is just as dangerous as voting against a candidate because of his sexual orientation--or race, or gender.

Respectfully, I disagree.

Had I been unaware of Miller's sexual orientation, I might have voted for him anyway. After all, he was already performing ably as acting secretary of state. But I considered it a major plus that he could be the first openly gay statewide official.

And what is so wrong with that?

*

I maintain that no one really has a clue what the secretary of state does, but that doesn't matter--whoever holds the position can function as a potent political symbol. March Fong Eu gave hope to women and minorities; Miller's primary victory does the same for gays.

The same could be said for any political office. Give me qualified candidates who are women or members of ethnic minorities and I will vote for them, too, as long as their politics jibe with mine.

This is my own brand of affirmative action, guaranteed under the Constitution (but only since 1925, after all, since it took that long for my ilk to get the vote).

Sometimes I exercise this privilege specifically to make a statement about tolerance, to counteract those who would vote against a candidate because he or she is gay . . . or female, or not white. This, I suppose is the legacy of my outrage over Tom Bradley's loss to George Deukmejian in the 1982 California gubernatorial campaign. Racism, I believe, was responsible for the unexpected result of that election.

So I voted for Tony Miller because he is qualified for the job and because he is gay.

Yes, I can be capricious or cranky in the voting booth. I can coldly vote my pocketbook or toss pragmatism to the wind, voting as I wish the world could be, not as it really is.

I mean, I cast my lot with Jerry Brown for President.

Need I say more?

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There are a number of reasons I felt it important to support a gay candidate for state office. Perhaps my error was in being too flippant when I mentioned it.

Homophobia is a thriving disease. Despite the recent celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, despite the success of last month's Gay Games in New York, this country has only a thin veneer of tolerance--and not always even that--toward gays.

I voted for Tony Miller because he is gay and because two women in Mississippi are being hounded by violence and threats simply because they are lesbians and have created a place--Camp Sister Spirit--to train civil rights activists.

I voted for Tony Miller because he is gay and because a teacher in San Diego is in trouble with school administrators for inviting her adult gay son to speak to her students after some of them made bigoted remarks about gays.

I voted for Tony Miller because he is gay and because right-wing extremists--the so-called stealth candidates--who get themselves elected to positions of influence on school boards need their noses tweaked.

And I especially took Tony Miller's sexual orientation into consideration because there are world-class homophobes such as Bob Dornan in national office and because people like Dornan not only face no real censure or approbation, but are rewarded with reelection.

(Fortunately, Dornan is vulnerable this year. A compilation of his quotes has been published as part of the Democratic Party's "BeatBob" campaign. The book, "Shut up, Fag," takes its name from a remark made by Dornan's wife, Sallie, to a gay rights activist in 1988. Many of Dornan's bizarre utterances are included, such as "Every lesbian spear-chucker in this country is hoping I get defeated" from his 1992 campaign.)

Should it be irrelevant that a candidate is gay or female or brown or black?

In a perfect world, yes.

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