[Ed. Note — This piece originally published at The Bilerico Project (bilerico.com), a news partner for Democratic National Convention Coverage.]
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At any political convention one of the most interesting sidenotes are the protests. Whether activists are chanting about left or right wing causes, oftentimes the political theater can outweigh the grandstanding inside the hall.
I was a protester at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. I went on the spur of the minute and spent most of my time huddled with ACT UP organizers planning the massive protest march, making signs, and generally having the time of my life.
In 2008, I attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver as a member of the media. My partner was a member of one of the rules committee and we shared our hotel room with Indiana’s first transgender delegate. This year I’m back in Charlotte for the Democratic convention as a member of the media again.
It hit me as I was standing outside of the convention hall Tuesday looking at all of the various protestors, vendors, and security officers. For the first time, I hadn’t seen any stand-alone religious bigots standing outside and chanting about “perverts” and holding signs about sexual deviants and “the sin of homosexuality.”
Instead, this year all of the religious right fervor seemed to have been saved primarily for the anti-abortion crowd. While the occasional anti-gay sign was mixed in their motley bag of moral outrage, they’ve saved their zest for man’s oldest enemy – an independent woman.
Since LGBT rights have advanced dramatically under President Obama, I expected to see even more of the Fred Phelpsian sort in Charlotte not less. Combined with the Party’s historic endorsement of marriage equality, I assumed that the anti-gay nutjobs would be out in full frothing force.
Pat Buchanan’s Legacy
Back in 1992, Pat Buchanan gave a notably bitter speech full of anti-gay and sexist venom meant to rouse evangelical voters from their slumber over President Bush’s somewhat moderate positions on social issues. Buchanan had challenged the incumbent Republican President for the nomination because the country was headed “in a liberal direction.” Buchanan’s ultra conservative campaign didn’t win him the nomination, but it did secure him a speaking spot at the convention.
“When the Irish-Catholic Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, asked to say a few words on behalf of the 25 million unborn children destroyed since Roe v Wade, Bob Casey was told there was no room for him at the podium at Bill Clinton’s convention, and no room at the inn,” Buchanan thundered during his primetime speech. “Yet a militant leader of the homosexual rights movement could rise at that same convention and say: ‘Bill Clinton and Al Gore represent the most pro-lesbian and pro-gay ticket in history.’ And so they do.”
“Elect me, and you get ‘two for the price of one,’ Mr. Clinton says of his lawyer-spouse… My friends, this is radical feminism. The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America: abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But that’s not the kind of change America needs. It’s not the kind of change America wants. And it’s not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call ‘God’s country’.”
Buchanan went on to continue a lucrative career as a political pundit; his star only went higher after his tirade on national television. In fact, for several years he was a frequent guest and co-host on liberal leaning MSNBC shows – supposedly to provide “balance” from the right. The network finally let him go earlier this year after repeated racist and anti-semitic incidents.
Buchanan’s legacy lives on as the Republican party has continued their anti-LGBT and anti-female tirade for the last twenty years. Republicans around the country have championed legislation to ban same-sex marriage and restrict women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
One Step Forward, One Step Back
For a while, the violent attacks on women’s health care clinics and doctors had started to fade away slightly as hate crimes and anti-LGBT rhetoric ratcheted up. Bush II’s crusade to the presidency used the threat of same-sex marriage equality as a boogeyman to drive evangelical voters to the polls and states around the nation passed constitutional amendments to restrict the freedom to marry to opposite sex couples only. Ironically enough, one of Bush the Lesser’s top campaign masterminds, Ken Mehlman, has since come out of the closet and now vociferously defends the rights of gays and lesbian couples to marry – as has Bush’s extremely conservative former Vice President, Dick Cheney.
As LGBT rights have become more mainstream and acceptable in the public eye, a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions has once again become a hot button issue. Virginia Republicans led the pack by attempting to force women seeking an abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound probe this year. Republican Congress members howled to defund Planned Parenthood. State lawmakers across the nation have tried to edge the law closer to outlawing abortion by declaring fetuses “persons.”
One can see how the narrative has started to switch back to the war on women as you walk the streets of downtown Charlotte. Flip Benham, pictured right, is a regular protester of pride events and gay-friendly Charlotte churches. He was convicted of stalking an abortion doctor in 2011, but is currently getting a new trial. With his history of demonizing LGBT people, I noticed that all of his signs are about abortion instead.
Obviously, there were protesters who shouted anti-gay slurs and Biblical verses. As far as I could see though, the hateful rhetoric and outrageous placards were all placed alongside anti-abortion propaganda. We were almost the afterthought in this year’s religious right rebellion.
It’ll be interesting over the next few years to see how this plays out. As the Democrats have supported LGBT rights by larger and larger amounts, it remains just as necessary for our community to continue to support our sisters in the struggle for human rights. We can do no less for the lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender women inside our own community, but as we expect straight people to defend our humanity, we must champion the fight for women’s rights too.