“Asked whether the outcome [of the Democratic Primary] might have had something to do with [Democratic Congressional candidate Ed] Greenleaf being openly gay, both [State Dem. Party Chair Jaime] Harrison and Greenleaf say they don’t think so.”
Well, nobody EVER wants to be the one to say so…even when these things desperately NEED to be said. So here ya go…The outcome of Mr. Greenleaf’s primary had EVERYTHING to do with his sexuality…the twist in this race was that his problem was not with the voters. Greenleaf’s problem was the same problem that every openly LGBT Democratic candidate in South Carolina has ever had…the institutional homophobia of the South Carolina Democratic Party…whose duplicity makes me grateful that a mouth can only have two sides.
It was only in 2002 that the Democratic Party of South Carolina came to the realization that gay people could raise a TON of money for Democratic candidates (read THEIR HAND-PICKED DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES). That was the watershed moment during which gay people suddenly became valuable to the South Carolina Democratic Party…not important or EVEN respected mind you, just valuable.
For the past decade the SC Democratic Party has sucked everything they could get out of South Carolina’s LGBT community in terms of time, talent and treasure. But while our wallets were being snatched from our pockets by one hand of the State Democratic Party, the party’s other hand was instinctively winding up for the sucker punch that ALWAYS follows the annual “fleecing of the gays”.
This begs the question…just who is it who controls those hands that are taking our valuable LGBT time, talent and treasure and which never fail to then turn around and slap us in the face? The answer to that is the party’s Gubernatorial Candidate and the party strategists who have been guiding Democratic Gubernatorial candidates for years.
When I ran for State House in 2002, I was the first non-incumbent openly gay candidate in the history of the state. I ran again in 2004 finishing with 48% of the vote…against the notoriously bigoted Republican John Graham Altman in a district that had been created just for him.
Our campaign was commended by political journalists as being the best organized and the best funded for a state house race that they had seen in years. Even with that kind of praise from the press and from party insiders who knew us, then-Democratic Governor Jim Hodges was reported to have told the Chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party “Get Charlie Smith off the ticket whatever it takes! An openly gay candidate is going to cost me 5% of the vote statewide.”
As it turned out, Governor Hodges helicopter ride during Hurricane Floyd is what caused him to lose the race. OUR campaign actually brought voters to the polls that Hodges would never have otherwise benefited from…openly LGBT voters who had never participated before.
The 2005 SC Democratic Convention followed the November 2004 election where I had received 48% of the vote against Altman. The Charleston delegation was seated front and center about ten feet away from the convention podium. I proudly sat in that spot knowing that I had twice personally taken on one of the biggest bullies in South Carolina politics. I had raised a quarter of a million dollars for two races that had typically cost Altman about $15K each to win. I sat there knowing that our campaign had garnered 48% of the vote against the biggest bigot in the state house and expecting that our campaign might at least get a mention. The importance of the SC House Seat 119 race was repeatedly underscored by every speaker at the podium that day…and I mean without exception! Altman was ridiculed over and over again all day long…but the candidate and the campaign that had done the work and had fought the good fight TWICE was never even mentioned…not once. That’s how the Democratic Party of SC treats its LGBT candidates. Use ’em and lose ’em!
The next state convention in 2006 brought with it the Vince Sheheen-supported anti-gay marriage amendment. At this convention Vince Sheheen and his uncle made sure through their manipulations of the State Democratic Party Executive Committee that an LGBT-positive resolution (which had been unanimously adopted at the Charleston County Democratic Convention) would be rendered meaningless by their scheme to make ALL resolutions at the 2006 State Convention non-binding. It was said that this was done to prevent any chance of an open discussion of LGBT equality on the floor of the South Carolina State Democratic Convention while Vince Sheheen was running for State Senate…because he did not want to have to admit in front of thousands of Democrats that he opposed LGBT equality. He still doesn’t.
It’s always the same ruse. Get what you can out of LGBT people and then find a way to make them disappear faster than the unanimously supported 2002 LGBT-supportive resolution from the Charleston County Convention that according to the Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman “Just disappeared somewhere between Charleston and Columbia” and couldn’t be presented to the State Convention. True story…it just disappeared! I guess a copy of the minutes of the county convention where it had been approved or perhaps just a fax machine would have required too much thought and effort for those in control of the convention agenda to bother.
My point here is that ALL Democrats need to have a clear picture of just who is running the Democratic Party in SC and how they are abusing LGBT Democrats in the process. News Flash! They are doing it in the exact same way that they once stole the time, talent and treasure of organized labor and african americans and then tossed them to the curb when the election was over. No doubt the Latino strategy is already in the works.
With this party’s current structure and its homophobic history, it is no great leap to surmise that Ed Greenleaf never had a snowball’s chance of getting the kind of State Democratic Party support that the party rushed to give Brad Hutto as soon as they found out that his opponent had been convicted of a crime. Why wasn’t Ed Greenleaf entitled to the same support from the SC State Democratic Party when his opponent’s goals were discovered to be straight out of the South Carolina REPUBLICAN Party Platform?
Unfortunately the State Democratic Party will ALWAYS support a right-wing opportunist like Phil Black over a qualified LGBT candidate whose views are totally mainstream within the national party. All the party had to do to avoid the embarrassment of elevating an opportunistic right-winger in Greenleaf’s primary was to give Greenleaf the same courtesy it gave Hutto…tell the voters who the real Democrat is.
The homophobic betrayal of LGBT Democratic candidates by their own party is how we wind up with people like Phil Black winning Democratic Primaries. It’s also how we wind up with gubernatorial candidates like Vince Sheheen who will take everything he can get from the LGBT community and then stand up repeatedly, even at LGBT events, and say to the world that LGBT people are ABSOLUTELY NOT equal and are ABSOLUTELY NOT entitled to protection under our state or federal constitutions.
Sorry to have to say to Jaime Harrison, Ed Greenleaf and to everyone concerned that Ed Greenleaf’s sexuality had EVERYTHING to do with why the party did not support him. To say or think otherwise is to ignore the history of the State Party and to allow those who control the party to lay claim to a level of integrity to which they are absolutely not entitled.
Charles W. Smith
Charleston, South Carolina