Beware the political ‘avatars’ among us

LGBT candidates who aim to hide their sexuality suggest they’re ashamed of it and may ultimately be reluctant to vote for gay rights

While watching the new science fiction blockbuster Avatar last weekend, I had a disturbing thought: "How many avatars are walking among us right now?" Now before you assume that I brought home an unhealthy dose of paranoia along with my 3-D glasses, hear me out.

The whole concept of an avatar is a virtual being who represents us in a game or other "virtual" situation. The ones in the film are real beings who human "pilots" use to infiltrate the local indigenous creatures. It’s the ultimate stealth operation.

But the source of my concern is not blue-skinned giants, but flesh and blood folks who look, walk and talk a lot like you and me. They inhabit a body that for all appearances looks just like a heterosexual’s, and some even surround themselves with the trappings of the straight world, such as children, opposite-gender spouses, etc. Under their skin, they are political animals, and like most of their species, they seek the elusive goal of victory, sometimes at any cost.

What I am really talking about are candidates who are gay or lesbian but choose to keep that aspect of their life a secret. Now I understand there is nothing new about folks living in the closet, but for a politician it’s a dangerous and disingenuous trap. Though they may successfully inhabit the avatar of a "straight" person, inside they are in conflict. That kind of conflict can cause some real problems for anyone, much less a politician. For a public servant, that conflict may lead to critical votes being colored by the fear of appearing sympathetic to LGBT people, a crack in the shell that might give you away.

Look at the numerous political figures who have been "outed" recently. Some, like Larry Craig, were some of the most vehement attackers of equal rights for sexual minorities, yet lived and may still live a secret life of restroom sex with men. Others are more subtle.

Anne Marie Schubert, a Republican candidate for judge in Sacramento, looks like a typical judicial candidate. She has lots of experience and is well connected politically. In fact, her brother spearheaded the Proposition 8 campaign that yanked marriage rights from gay and lesbian people across the state. But by all accounts she is an avatar. Though she does not mention her sexual orientation or family in her campaign material, she lives with another woman, raising two children. Even her brother admits she is in a "domestic partnership" with another woman.

In a statement to San Francisco’s LGBT newspaper, The Bay Area Reporter, Schubert said, "It is irrelevant what race, creed, sexual orientation or gender someone possesses. What matters is that all participants in the judicial system be treated with fairness and respect …"

That is certainly the kind of statement I like to hear from a judicial candidate, but this is why it bothers me. Not mentioning her own family or orientation leads me to believe she is ashamed of it. More to the point, will that concealment color her opinions as a judge? And how are the electorate in her party going to feel if she is elected and her orientation becomes an issue?

On the local scene, candidates sometimes appear who might want the contributions of LGBT political groups, but in their home districts they would prefer to keep that quiet and refuse to talk about the issue. They want to play both sides.

I understand that the LGBT community needs all the allies we can get, but is that worth supporting the political closet system that has been shown to produce so many problems?

Yes, we need more gay-friendly politicians, and yes, we need more LGBT representation if we are to get things changed, but shouldn’t those who represent us be unashamed?

It would seem that this kind of concealment plays into the whole "gay agenda" scare that the right wing uses to ramp up the fear level. Gay and lesbian candidates secretly infiltrating offices to pursue some kind of nefarious plot. More likely, these avatars will come to identify with the characters they are playing, perhaps to the point where they forget they are LGBT at all.

If we only had blue skin this whole thing might be a non-issue?

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 8, 2010.
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