Leveraging Votes and Gaining Influence

The municipal election on November 2d–a mere month from now–presents a real opportunity for Indianapolis’ gay community…

The municipal election on November 2d–a mere month from now–presents a real opportunity for Indianapolis’ gay community.

For the first time in many, many years, the race for Mayor is highly competitive. Polls taken by the candidates as well as by independent pundits show the candidates in a dead heat. While Democrats have always outregistered Republicans in Marion County, the numbers have grown more lopsided as Republicans, disproportionately, have moved into the "collar communities." Meanwhile, the Democrats have been working hard on their Get Out the Vote program, finally recognizing that consistent GOP victories have not reflected numerical superiority, but organizational excellence: Republicans have simply been much better in getting their voters to the polls.

Whatever the reasons (internal fighting in the local GOP, widespread antagonism to Goldsmith that has "rubbed off" on the party and its current candidate, the feeling that it may be time for a change after 32 years of uninterrupted rule by one party), the fact that this election is a real contest-– "a horse-race" as the saying goes–gives the gay community an unprecedented opportunity. In such an election, the "gay vote" can make the difference. ????

Is there really such a thing as "the gay vote." Probably not. Gays–like Jews, Hispanics, WASPS, etc.–are far from monolithic in their political beliefs. There are conservatives, liberals, libertarians and plenty of apathetics among gay voters. But it is fair to suggest that, all else being equal, gay and gay-friendly voters are less likely to vote for candidates who are perceived as being hostile to gay interests.

I know that I look more favorably at the candidacy of someone with gay support, gay advisers. I am more likely to vote for a candidate who supports civil rights protection for gays and lesbians. In one sense, that is a highly parochial position; I have a gay son, and I am a partisan in the so-called "culture wars." But I also think my position is defensible on wider grounds. A candidate’s position on gay rights tells me much more about that candidate than what he or she thinks of the gay community. It gives me insight into that person’s approach to issues of personal autonomy and fundamental fairness. It says something about his or her courage to stand for what is right and just, despite inevitable disapproval. These are legitimate and relevant considerations.

In the upcoming race, neither candidate has pandered to the haters. That is a very good sign, but it is not the same as support for the legitimate aspirations of Indianapolis’ gay citizens. Now is the time to ask them the hard questions: will your administration reach out affirmatively to the gay and lesbian community? Will there be a "seat at the table" for individuals who are out, who are advocates for the community? Will you use the "bully pulpit" of the Mayor’s office to celebrate diversity and condemn homophobia?

There will never be a better time to ask these questions and get the answers on the record. The candidates both know that they need every vote. What are the assurances they are willing to give in return for visible gay support? More telling, perhaps, is whether they want visible gay support.

Candidates always want votes, even the votes of people they dislike. That is how the game is played. The question is whether the gay community is politically sophisticated enough to play that game for its own advantage. If gay votes can be used to leverage public support for equal rights, it becomes a game that everyone can win.