Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gubernatorial Candidate Forum for Vermont's LBGTQ Community is NOT INCLUSIVE

"Democracy belongs to those who show up . . ." writes Jim Hightower in another one of his essays on civic activism - "Reassembling America's Democracy.".

Since my high school years I have been an engaged citizen and have voted in every election since I became eligible. I was pleased to read that RU12?, Outright Vermont, Vermont CARES, Samara Foundation, Vermont TransAction, and Vermont Freedom to Marry are sponsoring a Gubernatorial Candidate Forum for the LBGTQ Community.

But I have also learned from a friend in the community that this event was excluding independent candidates, i.e. only candidates from the “major” parties were to be invited to participate. This decision was troubling for me, especially since groups like RU12? and Outright exist to give voice to the voiceless and marginalised and work to encourage informed and active citizens.

It wasn't until some of the independent candidates and well known, activist members of Vermont's queer community started asking why the independents were told not to show up that the language for this event was "clarified". If it's now been changed to a "primary candidates forum," how come Republican Brian Dubie was invited? He's not facing a primary. Neither is Progressive Martha Abbott (she wasn't even invited). If the original intent was a primary debate, why didn't the sponsoring groups state that in the beginning? The clarification is in fact a major change.

It just seems hypocritical to me and downright wrong not to include -- Dennis Steele (who has reached out to the LBGT community), Cris Ericson, Em Peyton, Martha Abbott (herself a member of the community!), Ben Johnson, Ben Mitchell or Dan Feliciano -- in a 90 minute forum. (Independent and third party candidates have been included in these forums before.

The sponsors are still getting what they want: a forum with the "major" Democratic party candidates. RU!2? Exec Director Kara De Leonardis writes (the same text appears on all the sponsoring organisations' websites to promote the "clarification"), its "purpose as a forum for candidates facing the primary on August 24th."

The event on July 19 - for all RU12?'s and the others' feigning 'open-ness' - is still a Democratic party event. Vermont Democrats always assume that they've got the Queer Vote, and yet nationally - every time after an election, real LBGT rights and demands are ignored. And this time the premiere Vermont Queer Groups have fallen into that trap.

To write that they'll hold a forum with all the candidates closer to the date of the general election is like throwing the dog a bone hoping he'll be satisfied. Besides, the event is one of the kick-offs for Pride Week, when there will be a captive audience of queer folk assembled in Burlington for all the festivities. Fat chance that people would travel in October for an 'all-candidates' forum.

The correct thing to do would still to have the open forum with all the candidates. Otherwise RU12?, Outright Vermont, Vermont CARES, Samara Foundation, Vermont TransAction, and Vermont Freedom to Marry are not representing the Queer Community at all.

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