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Sensing They Can Make a Difference, Gay, Lesbian Activists Mobilize the Vote

Politics: Homosexuals make up at least 5% of the electorate, so in a close race they are battling for turnout, among Democrats and Republicans.


In an election so tight nearly every bloc of voters believes it might make up the margin of victory, perhaps nowhere is the rhetoric more heated than in the gay community.

Bill DuBay, gay activist and Democratic precinct captain in his downtown Seattle neighborhood, has a recurring nightmare that comes to him in broad daylight: He wakes up on Wednesday and George W. Bush is president-elect of the United States.

"Listen to George Bush," says DuBay, who has spent every night for weeks ringing doorbells and making his case for Vice President Al Gore. "He opposes everything for us. He came right out and said about gay marriage: 'I'm opposed to it.' A lot of us have kids, and where does he stand on artificial insemination for lesbians or gay adoption? There's that fear factor that we're going to start going backwards."

There's a lot of fear all right, argues Kevin Ivers, spokesman for the largest gay GOP group, the Log Cabin Republicans. But it's the creation of Democrats, he says, and like-minded gay activists--not Bush. "That's what the Democratic Party always resorts to in the last two weeks--a campaign based on panic and fear: 'Vote as if your life depends on it,' " Ivers says. "They literally want people to believe that if Al Gore doesn't win this election, their people will be put in death camps."

The talk in the gay community has been in life-and-death terms.

"We literally stand at the precipice of either splatting to Earth or soaring from a cliff when it comes to some basic civil rights," Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, said at a rally Tuesday at the University of Minnesota.

Birch and other gay activists have taken that message this week to Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico, hoping to talk liberals out of casting their vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader instead of Gore.

But as pro-Gore forces fan out across the country, gay Republicans have lashed back.

Log Cabin Republicans have called attention to a remark Gore made as a congressman in 1976, when he referred to homosexuality as "abnormal."

The group is also funding a nearly $300,000 ad campaign in gay print and radio markets that points out broken promises of the Clinton administration, such as allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

The kicker on one: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!"

The gay community votes strongly--but far from exclusively--for Democrats. Exit polls from nonpartisan voter research firms have shown anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of self-identified gay, lesbian and bisexual voters cast their ballots for Republican or independent candidates. The total vote of the gay community has been assessed at between 5% and 8% of the electorate.

The two presidential candidates have sharp differences on most gay policy issues but also some common ground.

Both men do not support gay marriage, agreeing that marriage should be reserved for unions between a man and a woman. Gore, however, says he supports some form of "civil unions" for gays and lesbians and also supports extending domestic partner benefits to gay couples. Bush, as Texas governor, opposed extending such benefits.

Neither of the candidates would return to the ban on gays serving in the military, which was the policy before the Clinton administration. Bush would stick with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy President Clinton adopted. Gore says gays should be able to serve openly.

Gore supports the right of gays and lesbians to adopt children. Bush has said he believes every effort should be made to stay with the "ideal," which he defines as adoption by a male-female couple.

In forums in major cities sponsored by gay rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Bush's record on these issues and others has been described as "terrible" and much worse.

Gay Republicans, however, see it differently. They say Bush has reached out to their community more than any other Republican presidential nominee. Earlier this year, he met with the Log Cabin Republicans after five months of dodging their requests.

Bush, they say, also aided in their efforts to remove the majority of the language they objected to from the party platform, although not all. Ivers even compares Bush to Bill Clinton in terms of what he has done for gays and lesbians in his party.

It is a point of view hotly contested by liberals in the gay community who call any defense of Bush's record on gay rights "ridiculous."

"What's at stake is this: Everything we have gained at the federal level since 1993 can be erased at the stroke of a pen," said gay and lesbian task force spokesman David Elliot. "The gay and lesbian liaison in the White House, the executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal workplace, a hard-fought placement of the first openly gay ambassador."

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