By MAXWELL REINHARDT
After a decade marked by terrorism, bitter partisan gridlock, and a grinding culture war, I bet you thought you’d seen every nasty bit that American politics had to offer. I did, until I opened up a newspaper and read that the incumbent Democratic state senator from Fairfax and Arlington, Janet Howell, was attacking her Republican opponent, Patrick Forrest, by alerting the district’s conservative constituents that he is an openly gay man.
A few weeks ago, a Republican operative recorded a conversation with an intoxicated Democratic precinct captain working for Sen. Howell’s reelection campaign. On the recording, the Democratic operative can be heard saying, “Why would you want to vote for someone who’s a homosexual and is going to push his [homosexual] agenda in your schools?”
Sen. Howell was trying to inform socially conservative voters of Forrest’s homosexuality hoping that it will dissuade them from voting for him.
Her tactic appears to be having some effect on the voters. Forrest has been approached by Republican voters asking him if he was indeed, as the Democratic volunteers had told them, a homosexual. Forrest usually responds by saying, “Yeah, I’m gay. I’ve always been openly gay.”
However, Forrest’s homosexuality does not appear to be the Democrats’ main concern. They had been told by volunteers that he would push a “homosexual agenda” in public schools, a ludicrous claim, that Forrest has repeatedly denied.
Anyone who has seen the film “Milk” knows that the Democrats’ attack is not original. It is an echo from another era, the era of Anita Bryant and John Briggs who pushed a piece of legislation called Proposition 6 in California which would have fired all gay and lesbian school employees and their supporters. The measure failed, and is considered a landmark victory by gay rights advocates.
While Sen. Howell does have a strong pro-gay rights record, the behavior of her campaign should be condemned as unacceptable to anyone who supports equal rights for gays and lesbians, but unfortunately the damage has already been done. Gay Republicans who might want to run for office in the future might be dissuaded from participating in the political process because of Sen. Howell’s homophobic attacks.