Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Making the Green Case

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Making the Green Case

Article excerpt

Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader puts himself forward as the alternative to gay politics as usual

In his quixotic presidential bid, Ralph Nader refers to the Democratic and Republican parties as "Republocrats" whose two interchangeable standard-bearers are "Gush" and "Bore." Yet when it comes to gay rights, the legendary consumer crusader faces an uphill battle convincing voters that his Green Party is a credible alternative to the major parties.

Not only are Democrats Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman staunch gay rights advocates, but George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have sought to blur long-standing partisan differences on gay issues by tentatively reaching out to gay Republicans. Nader himself can hardly boast a stellar record of gay advocacy. In fact, he has spent much of his long political career avoiding the topic. In a 1996 interview with columnist William Safire of The New York Times, Nader famously dismissed gay rights and abortion as "gonadal politics."

After an early surge in national polls, Nader has slipped to between 2% and 5% of the vote in key battleground states such as California and Michigan. Even so, in a close election he has the potential to siphon enough progressive votes from Gore to cost the Democrats the election, a possibility that infuriates many gay Democrats. In an August 15 press release, the National Stonewall Democratic Federation declared that "any votes for Ralph Nader will only serve to help elect Governor Bush" and that "Al Gore is the only electable presidential candidate with a proven record of support for the goal of ending prejudice in society."

In an attempt to overcome such skepticism, Nader has begun to grapple with gay politics in a sustained way for the first time. During an August 7 appearance on Meet the Press he endorsed recognition of same-sex unions, calling the Vermont decision on civil unions "a good one." In the process he has sparred with Rep. Barney Frank, who has called Nader "indifferent" to gay politics, and California assemblywoman Carole Migden, who implied in an interview with California Triangle magazine that Nader is a closet case. Nader "has strong ties to the [gay] community--and has for years--and hasn't been forthright about it."

"That's like asking, `When did you stop beating your wife?'" Nader responded when the San Francisco Chronicle sought his reaction. "But the answer to her inference is no."

While Nader has long been loath to speak about his private life, there is no doubting Nader's passion or intelligence. In an exclusive interview with The Advocate, Nader spoke at length and with great enthusiasm about his differences with Gore, his spat with Barney Frank, and "gonadal politics."

What are you doing to attract gay votes?

I haven't seen evidence that gay people are supporting me in great numbers. The main gay rights groups have endorsed Gore. It's true with any community faced with a "least worse" proposition. Look at Barney Frank. Here he's chastising me, and I'm way ahead of Gore on these issues.

What's up with you and Barney Frank anyway?

He goes into areas that are based on a lack of knowledge--like saying that we haven't done enough over the years for low-income people. Is he kidding? I didn't start this fight with Barney. He just shoots his mouth off. Barney has worked hard to forge an alliance between gay voters and the Democratic Party, which has come a long way on the issue. In the case of gay voters, why should that alliance be questioned? Barney and other gay leaders should recognize I've taken far more progressive stances on gay issues than Gore or Bush. He's a partisan Democrat, and he's not about to divert from that path, but the least he could do is recognize that.

Actually, on gay rights issues the difference between the parties is pretty stark.

Yes, there is a difference on that issue and on abortion rights. But if you laid out the top 100 issues that need to be addressed, Bush and Gore would be on the same page with 90% of them. …

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