I’ve just finished watching Logo’s Visible Vote 08, and though politics doesn’t normally fall within the scope of AfterEllen.com’s coverage, one could argue that politics provides some of the most cutthroat entertainment possible. While watching the presidential forum, I live-blogged my thoughts about it. Here they are, lightly edited:
The forum opens to reveal a somewhat austere, PBS-like stage, with a woman seated in the middle of the stage in a boxy armchair; it’s journalist Margaret Carlson. On her right are three people on a couch: Joe Solmonese (president of the Human Rights Campaign), Melissa Etheridge and Jonathan Capehart (editorial writer from the Washington Post). On stage right is an empty chair where the Democratic presidential candidates will sit, one after the other.
Margaret Carlson announces that she’s "on special assignment for Logo." She seems to stumble a bit on the words "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender." Not familiar much with that acronym, huh, Margaret?
Hey — didn’t they know I was available to moderate this? I’m just sitting on my couch live-blogging the darn thing. I could’ve easily flown down to L.A. Plus, I can say "LGBT" in my sleep, I swear!
The opening credits appear with lots of important-sounding music and long words flashing across the screen.
Margaret, who seems to have a bit of a problem reading the teleprompter, tells us that over the next two hours all the Democratic presidential candidates will be speaking in "the order of their confirmation to attend the forum." At first I think this is demented (what about alphabetical order?) but then I see the reason: It means that Barack Obama goes first, and Hillary Clinton goes last.
Barack comes into the studio shaking hands like a rock star — oh, there’s Alec Mapa. And hey, Neil Patrick Harris! And Jane Lynch is there too!
After shaking everybody’s hands, Obama sits in the vacant seat. Joe Solmonese asks the first question: What place does the church have in government-sanctioned civil marriages? I settle in for a long night of questions and vague non-answers about gay marriage.
Barack quickly goes into a riff on how as a black guy named Barack Obama, he knows how it feels to be on the outside. Ya know, as an Asian American woman, I know that feeling too. Hey, we already have something in common! Too bad it’s not support for gay marriage.
He talks about how he is a supporter of a "strong version" of civil unions, and then finally winds his way back to the church question: He doesn’t think churches should be involved in the legal rights conferred by the state, but each church should make their own choices about whether they’ll do religious marriages for gay couples. Duh.
Joe asks Barack how he would have voted on the issue of civil marriage if it came up when he was an Illinois state senator. Barack thinks we should "disentangle" the word "marriage" from the civil rights that are given to, um, married couples. He said he’d support a civil union that would provide all the benefits that are part of a legally sanctioned marriage.
Joe keeps pushing: "Can you see how, to our community, that comes across as separate but equal?"
Barack talks about how his parents, who got married in 1961, wouldn’t have been allowed to get married in several states in the South, so he understands the issue. But he says if he were advising the civil rights movement in 1961, he would say it’s more important to focus on the various legal rights instead. He says that he’s "sympathetic" to those who are troubled by this. Um, "troubled"? How about frustrated and pissed off?
Margaret steps in and says she’s been working with "the Logo people" for a "couple days" so she has an idea of "what troubles them." Uh, really? A couple days! That’s great. Glad "the Logo people" made such an impression on you. I can’t stop my eyes from rolling.
On the other hand, she does say bluntly to Barack, "You got to get married and I got to be married, but Joe doesn’t get to be married, and that really does mean that it’s a lesser thing."
"Semantics may be important to some," Barack says. He seems a little defensive and impatient. You’re losing me, Barack. Show some compassion. I don’t even believe in marriage, but I get why gay people want it.
Melissa Etheridge then gets to ask a question, but first she says she’s incredibly humbled to be here. She says she’s "an incredibly privileged rock star" — one who has donned dapper, gold-rimmed glasses for this event! She says she’s grateful to represent her community. She’s so smiley I can’t help cheering for her. Go Melissa! Love the glasses!
She asks Barack what he will do to bring this country together if he’s elected president. He goes into this whole spiel about how he got into politics because he doesn’t like people looking down on others. He mentions some "universal truths" about the "core decency" of human beings, and admits that the Washington press corps sometimes rolls their eyes at his "hope-monger" believes. Basically Obama’s getting all Pollyanna on us. Strangely, I am unmoved.
Melissa gives a little speech about how she grew up in the Midwest believing that America’s a great country and everyone’s created qual. She says, "My creator made me what I am; I believe that," and people in the audience applaud. She encourages him to be the person to make the change. I feel inspired. Hey Melissa, maybe you should write a song about it! Oh wait. You did.
I’m momentarily distracted by noticing Barack’s impeccably starched cuffs. He’s dressed pretty well actually — a black suit with a light blue tie patterned with dots. His cuffs don’t have noticeably flashy cufflinks, but I don’t think those are regular buttons.
Jonathan Capeheart asks how Obama’s going to talk to the black community about homophobia in the black community. Barack says that he has already talked to the black community about it (defensive maybe?) and he will continue to bring it up even in locations where the conversation isn’t as welcome as it is at the Visible Vote forum.
Then Jonathan asks pointedly, "How can you run as a candidate of change when your stance on same-sex marriage is decidedly old school?" The audience kind of goes "ooh," and Jonathan gets big points.
Obama says, "Oh, come now." Then goes into how he has a track record of working on these issues, but somehow I’m not convinced. I think the "Oh, come now" approach did not work for me; it sounded like he was brushing off the question as ridiculous, when it’s quite important.
Margaret asks Barack if he would put the fight for gay rights on a par with the civil rights movement. Obama says he is cautious about getting into comparisons of vicimology, and says that the issues gay people face today are different than the issues African Ameican faced under Jim Crow, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t parallels. I think that’s about the best answer to that question I’ve heard, actually.
Apparently then they run out of time for the viewer-generated question, but they give Barack 30 seconds to sum up. He launches into a stump speech and I zone out … condom distribution … AIDS … courage … I appreciate your time.
I gotta say, Margaret Carlson seems to have a bit of a crush on him. He waves to everybody and then walks off the front of the stage.