As a British black gay man, February is always a proud time for me. Not only is it LGBT History Month in the UK, but also Black History Month in the USA. The beginning of this month, however, was somewhat different. Like so many other Britons, I stayed up all night to watch the Iowa Caucus in the US, the first stage of the process for candidates to get the nod from their respective parties for the presidential bid. The only woman, of course, was Hillary Clinton.
Republicans aside with Ted Cruz beating Donald Trump, I wasn’t surprised to see so much hysteria around Hillary from many in the LGBT community. I remember the same thing in 2008. As I scrolled through Twitter, there were tweets after tweets declaring their love for “Hills” (a nickname she’s been given by her most ardent gay fans). One prominent gay rights campaigner wrote that Hillary “is giving me LIFE right now”; another, “I love Hillary Clinton day and night!” Soon the hashtag #GaysForHillary was trending.
From watching social media, anyone would think that Clinton had been an advocate for gay equality her whole life. This idea further strengthened by her recent endorsement by the Human Rights Campaign in the US, the largest LGBT civil rights organisation. But actually, that’s not entirely true. It was only just over a decade ago that Hillary publicly declared she was against gay marriage. She didn’t reverse that until 2013. Hardly the LGBT ambassador we’ve been hoping for.
Is it the simple fact that she is a woman, or does this love go deeper? When I watched Barack Obama beat Hillary for the Democratic nomination in 2008, going on to become the first black president of the United States as we all know, I witnessed appalling white racism in the LGBT community towards him for having the audacity to challenge her. Being black and gay, as I am, can be difficult. Racism remains a serious problem in some of the LGBT ranks.
This week, we saw the “democratic socialist” underdog Bernie Sanders come a virtual tie with Hillary in the first national caucus with him at 49.6 per cent and her at 49.9 per cent of the vote. Significantly, 84 per cent of the young people in Iowa voted for him. Yet for many LGBT people, Hillary was the overall favourite. What has the former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State actually done for LGBT people to deserve such adulation? Where are her concrete political credentials?
Having been raised by a strong independent white mother myself, along with my ten siblings in a English city in the North, I’m all for supporting the cause of better representation of women in politics and for the breaking of glass ceilings like the one at the White House. But Clinton can’t be upheld as progressive merely because she’s a woman. To do so does all of us a disservice.
During this LGBT History Month, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, do we forgive and forget Hillary’s very recent attitude towards LGBT rights? People do change their minds, after all. Or do we remember that the race to the White House is ultimately a political game in which some candidates have to play a smart House of Cards? Sanders had a long history of supporting LGBT rights before it was cool. Clinton, on the other hand, waited for marriage equality to become mainstream.
Until I see real progressive change for LGBT people, rather than spin, I won’t be cheering anyone on from the sidelines for global gay issues. Regardless of their gender and regardless of whether it’s at home or abroad, gay people at the very least deserve someone who was committed to the cause from the start, rather than someone who leapt on the bandwagon when it was convenient.
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