If you were a Democrat running for president who supports gay marriage, would issue an executive apology to gay and lesbian soldiers for "Don't Ask" and believe love between same-sex couples "is beautiful," you'd expect to receive a hearty invitation to the first nationally televised gay-rights candidate forum.
But if you were Mike Gravel, you would be wrong.
Gravel and fellow long-shot candidate Dennis Kucinich are the only Democratic presidential contenders who fully embrace equality for the GLBT community. Kucinich was invited to appear onstage Aug. 9 at the Human Rights Campaign's forum in Los Angeles, to be televised on the Logo network. Gravel was not.
Gravel was initially excluded from the affair because, according to the Human Rights Campaign, he hadn't raised a threshold $100,000, ostensibly the bar separating a serious candidate from a fringe one.
Before I get to the rest of that strange tale, let me mention that Gravel is coming to Tampa Bay on July 24 for a fundraiser and public rally. Details were not available at press time.
His appearance here is the handiwork of the FairTax community, not gay-rights advocates. It turns out that Gravel is also passionate about abolishing the I.R.S. and income taxes in favor of a national sales tax. He also wants an immediate end to the war in Iraq and supports the direct democracy movement, in which Congress' legislative powers would be transferred to the people, who would make laws by voter initiative.
Yes, those stances probably won't get you elected president of the United States these days, and they don't get you much press. His poll numbers are a hyphen. He doesn't have even enough money to stump vigorously through the entire country.
His campaign would be entirely unknown if not for The Daily Show airing his enigmatic advertisement "Rock," in which he stares at a camera, mute, for an interminable three minutes before walking away and tossing a rock into a small lake [brief explanation? Is he referencing the ripple effect?].
Gravel's place in history is more interesting than the "Rock" video would suggest. He is the former U.S. Senator from Alaska who helped keep the Pentagon Papers in the public eye when the Nixon Administration tried to stifle their further publication. Gravel read the Papers aloud from the Senate floor to put them into the congressional — and therefore public — record.
You'd think that on those anti-Nixonian grounds alone the Human Rights Campaign would have thrown the guy a little love, not to mention his record on GLBT issues. Gravel, after all, told a leading gay newsmagazine that he will not settle for anything less than full marriage equality. "Marriage is nothing but a commitment of two human beings in love," he told The Advocate. "I don't care if it's two women, two men or a man and a woman — it's a commitment of love."
And Gravel has gone even further on the subject: "Love between a man and a woman is beautiful, love between a woman and a woman is beautiful, love between a man and a man is beautiful, too. What this world needs is a lot more love."
In May on The Colbert Report, Gravel said he opposes the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy because "If you have any knowledge of history — ancient history — in Sparta they encouraged homosexuality because they fight for the people they love, and if it's your partner and you love him, then you're prepared to die for him.
"It's the same ethic in the military today. It's not [about] the country — it's (about) my partner who's sharing my foxhole with me."
He later expanded that view to say he would end "don't ask" and issue an executive apology to GLBT soldiers who served in the closet.
But the Human Rights Campaign said it had to draw the line somewhere. "We wanted to make sure that with the limited time we had to present this forum, our community got to hear from candidates who could actually be president," the group explained on its HRC Blog.
The snub was even more perplexing given that the major Democratic debates to date have included Gravel. (Although he's performed poorly: On TV he has unfortunately come off like the grouchy old neighbor into whose yard you just accidentally kicked your football.)
A day after the initial decision, Gravel blasted it: "I think the real reason why HRC didn't invite me is that I'm too vocal in my advocacy of gay rights. None of the top tier candidates would have been comfortable facing an opponent who consistently points out their refusal to embrace true equality for gays and lesbians. HRC simply bowed to the star factor. It's just a shame that this travesty was perpetrated in the name of the LGBT community."
Some in the queer blogosphere followed and called for his inclusion. By the end of last week, the human rights group had relented and invited Gravel to participate in the forum, now expanded to 90 minutes.
Organizers changed their minds "after enthusiastic community response." It will be interesting to see if Gravel gets that same kind of reaction when he visits Tampa Bay.
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