For progressives everywhere, November 3, 2004, was a dark day. But in my little gay corner of my little gay neighborhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn, it felt like those Red State voters had delivered me a stinging bitch-slap before heading back to church in their flag-festooned minivans. It felt that personal.

I wasn’t prepared for a second Bush victory. The Bush administration’s blundering policies seemed so outrageous that no rational person could cast a ballot in their favor.  Even my father, a lifelong Republican, held his nose and voted for Kerry. “At least Kerry’s a professional,” he said.  “I didn’t want to vote for somebody who just swaggers around the world carrying a big stick.”    

And so did I, as a lesbian and a hard-line liberal, despite Kerry’s disavowal of my right to marry and transparent discomfort with homosexuality.  

The decision wasn’t easy. On political blogs like DailyKos.com, I defended my choice to would-be Nader voters who believed a Kerry vote was selling out. I was frequently the first to confront anyone advocating a ‘protest vote.’ This election, I argued, was too important. We had to put our ideals into perspective, and save the marriage issue for another time when wars were not being waged on false premises and when rich people were not lining their pockets with money skimmed from schools and healthcare cuts.

My rationale was that if we liberals could swallow our distaste for Kerry’s quasi-conservative social outlook, he would be forced to recognize us and our ideals for the sake of party unity after he was safely installed in the White House. Just as Republicans had made a sharp right turn in response to the realization that they could not win without their ‘conservative Christians,’ I believed that the Democrats would see that they needed to address the values of gay liberals to maintain power. I could never contemplate a loss long enough to wonder what would happen if Kerry didn’t make it.

Despite the endless election cycle nattering of “moderate” Democrats who worried that “the gays” were the new Greens, it was still a shock to wake up November 3 and find myself on the sacrificial altar of political strategy. In the time it took the pundits to declare that the election had turned on “moral values,” gay Democrats had been branded as traitorous wraiths who had robbed Kerry of the presidency. The “gay marriage movement” was blamed for the Democrats’ loss, and Democrats were angry — in the elegant words of one irate blogger: “Thanks homos, it won’t happen again.”

Everyone from the armchair activists in the blogosphere to party luminaries including Senator Dianne Feinstein and openly gay Representative Barney Frank were urging the party to “move right” on social issues to become electable for the next round. America is not ready for gay marriage, they argued. Feinstein claimed that gay marriage “energize[d] a very conservative vote,” saying “The whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon.”

It is hard to say when exactly a society is ready to correct the injustices of ingrained prejudice. America certainly was not ready to abolish slavery in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected; nor to grant women suffrage in 1872, when Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting; nor for interracial marriage, even after the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. These social revolutions were brought about by the tenacity and conviction of their most passionate advocates, leaders — Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, to name a few — who emerged from the crowd to focus a movement and achieve its objectives.  

I know Kerry would not have been a revolutionary, but I believed he would have assumed leadership with a sense of fairness that is utterly lacking in Bush’s far-right radicalism.  More importantly, I believed the he would have allowed change to happen, even if he did not openly advocate it. But in the wake of the election fiasco, the Democratic hand-wringing turned to blood-letting, and rather than reacquainting themselves with their core values of social justice and civil rights, Democrats tacked even harder right, attempting to capture the ever-elusive “swing-voter,” and leaving the rest of us dangling.    

It is a painful place to be. Being treated as a pariah in my own party felt like the sucker-punch follow-up to that Red State bitch-slap. But in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and across the country on websites and in cafes, we are licking our wounds and trying to regroup.  We are discussing strategy, getting involved in local politics where our voices can be heard, and strengthening our own ties in order to fortify us for the long battle ahead.

Perhaps it was foolish to hope that a radical shift in the cultural bias against gays was so near at hand. But it is easy to forget how far we’ve come.  When I was born, homosexuality was a mental illness. Now it is the subject of a popular sitcom. Gay couples have gotten married with varying degrees of legality across the nation, and we have innumerable pop-culture icons that are openly gay. These small things signify a greater cultural shift, and when a critical mass is reached, new leaders will emerge as they have in the past.

It took a bloody war to end slavery, the better part of a century for women to win the right to vote, and the fight for Civil Rights continues today. These battles were fought with bayonets and horses across the Mason-Dixie line, over kitchen tables in homes, and at lunch counters in the segregated South. Now, they’re taking place on the steps of City Hall. Last year thousands of gay couples lined up to be married in San Francisco, California; New Paltz, New York; Sandoval County, New Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Asbury, New Jersey; and across the state of Massachusetts.

Like any good homo, I know when the party’s over, but I am not quite ready to leave the Democratic one, despite the ugly turn it has taken.  I can’t shake the feeling that enough of us minorities together make up a majority. I can’t stop thinking that this party could get rocking again if Democrats would look back to their own ideals of protecting the rights of minorities and promoting equality for all, rather than routing out those voters who pulled the lever for Bush because the idea of two fags getting married made their skin crawl. I want to be there when it does.  

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Keely Savoie, InTheFray Contributor

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