Election day 1998 has come and gone, and the Orange County gay and lesbian community can breathe a collective sigh of relief. The only attempt to make us a wedge issue came in the form of a Gloria Tuchman mailer trying to denigrate her opponent, Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, by emphasizing Eastin's support by gay and lesbian organizations in San Francisco. Eastin also had the support of Orange County gay and lesbian political organizations, but I guess Southern California gays don't hold the same threat as the San Francisco variety.
This is in stark contrast to 1996, when Bob Dornan's anti-Loretta Sanchez attacks screamed of her support of gay issues and of our community support for her. Also that year, three candidates for the South Orange County Community College District board of trustees mailed a flier accusing their opponents of being standard bearers of the "gay agenda" because of their support for domestic partnership benefits. Unfortunately, this flier, which was paid for in part by California Teachers Assn. union dues, helped two of these candidates get elected.
Does this year's election mean that we are safe? Are we now an accepted part of the political process? Hardly. We are still an issue as witnessed by recent events in state, national, and local politics.
Both California gubernatorial candidates had to field questions about their opposition of the recognition of same-sex unions. The Republicans in Congress resist passing either the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or a comprehensive hate crimes bill that includes sexual orientation.
Locally, there was a more positive turn of events, with more school board and city council candidates than ever seeking the endorsements and help of the county's gay and lesbian political organizations. The reason often cited was the support given to many of their opponents by the Educational Alliance and other right-wing groups. It seems that common enemies, not just politics, makes for strange bedfellows.
However, homophobia is still rearing its ugly head in the state and county, even if it's not cited directly in the campaigns. One of the reasons given by the Huntington Beach Union High School District's teachers union to explain their decision not to endorse incumbent Bonnie Castrey was her "gay and lesbian baggage." This stemmed from her vote, with the board majority, allowing the Gay-Straight Student Alliance to remain on the campus at Fountain Valley High School. Well, Bonnie's baggage gave her a lot of support resulting in her being reelected handily.
But why did gay and lesbian issues surface at all? If Castrey had helped any other student group on campus, would she have been accused of having Latino baggage, Jewish baggage, African-American baggage? No, because today it is recognized that even if these prejudices are harbored in one's heart, they are not to pass one's lips.
When hot-button issues are raised, such as gay and lesbian marriage or domestic partnership, or benign issues such as the inclusion of sexual orientation into employment nondiscrimination policies, the response is the same. "It's not needed. " "This is already covered." "It's another case of special rights."
Was the right to live a "special" right that Matthew Shepard was so brutally deprived of in Laramie, Wyo. a few weeks ago? Yet as long as we approve of the rhetoric against gays and lesbians, disguised as protecting family values, violent hate crimes will continue. And make no mistake, voting for candidates or supporting groups that rely on this hatemongering is reinforcing their unspoken opinion that a gay or lesbian life is somehow worth less than the life of a straight person.
This is what makes Matt Fong's contribution to the Traditional Values Coalition so heinous. No matter what this $50,000 was intended for, it bankrolled a group whose existence is to encourage prejudice and hatred against gays and to spread misinformation about the "gay agenda."
I will summarize the gay agenda as I see it: equal (not special) rights, equal opportunities, freedom from violence, and freedom from institutionalized homophobia. Pretty radical stuff. So any time someone rants and raves about the gay agenda, look at their agenda.
It's one that will deprive your children, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your fellow parishioners (yes, known or unknown to you, there are gays and lesbians in all these groups) of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution that you take for granted.
And, as long as you personally reward hatred again gays and lesbians with votes and money and allow it to exist, there will be more Matthew Shepards. Just pray that it's not one of your loved ones.