Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean has fired the party’s gay outreach advisor Donald Hitchcock because Hitchcock’s domestic partner, Democratic consultant Paul Yandura, criticized the party for not doing anything to oppose anti-gay marriage referendums in the 2004 elections and had no strategy to do so again this year.
On April 20, Yandura—who worked in the Clinton White House and on the staffs of the Clinton and Gore presidential campaigns—wrote an open letter to Dean and Democratic state chairs demanding an explanation as to why the party had done nothing to oppose the 11 gay marriage referendums that passed in 2004.
Less than a week later, Dean responded by firing Yandura’s domestic partner, Hitchcock, in what Yandura called "retaliation, pure and simple," adding, "It is important to note that I sat face-to-face with Howard last year to voice my concern honestly and openly" about the Democrats’ failure to oppose the gay marriage bans.
DNC press officer Karen Finney told Gay City News that there had been "no retaliation" for Yandura’s critical open letter—but refused to give any details of what the party was doing concretely to oppose state ballot referendums banning gay marriage.
"We don’t want to reveal our strategy to our Republican opponents," she said.
She declined to say whether Dean and the DNC were specifically pressing state party leaders nationwide on the issue.
But Yandura told Gay City News, "There has been no directive or request from either Chairman Dean or the DNC to the state parties asking them to get off their asses and oppose these anti-gay marriage referenda in the states. When I met with Dean and senior staff last year and told them the party needed a strategy on this issue to defeat the Republicans, they all agreed—but up until now they’ve done nothing except talk.”
Yandura then addressed the politics at the heart of the matter.
“Look, this isn’t really about gay marriage—it’s about the Republican-Karl Rove strategy to win elections, and I’m trying to help the party win, not hurt it,” he said. “But I won’t allow gays or immigrants to be used as human shields to blame defeat at the polls on. If the party won’t take very concrete steps and actions to fight these anti-gay marriage referendums on the ground—referenda designed to help Republicans win—then we may have to start withholding our financial contributions to the Democratic Party… I hope it doesn’t get to that point."
Some gay Democrats are already saying that, with just six months to go until November and still no Democratic strategy to fight the gay marriage-ban referendums coupled with the punitive firing of Hitchcock, that point has already been reached.
Yandura now runs a political consulting firm with Marsha Scott, a longtime friend of Bill Clinton who was White House deputy director of personnel, and who served for a time as his outreach representative to the LGBT community. Her name surfaced in the former president’s impeachment proceedings, when Clinton testified he’d asked her to help Monica Lewinsky find a post-White House job.
With bans on same-sex marriage equality likely to be on the ballot this year in Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, and other states, the failure of the Democrats to stand up to this Republican, religious right anti-gay offensive is a more important question than ever—especially since, as the ‘04 elections proved, these referendums increase voter turnout among religious conservatives, to the Democrats’ detriment.
This is not the first time Dean, as DNC chairman, has taken steps that displeased gay Democrats. In February, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s gay and lesbian caucus, New Yorker Jeff Soref—a longtime party fundraiser and former board chairman of the Empire State Pride Agenda—announced that his resignation as a party national committeeman resulted from Dean’s decision to eliminate the party’s national gay and lesbian outreach operation.
The DNC at the time responded that it had eliminated all of its special desks. It was not until after the wave of criticism from gay Democrats about the gay outreach desk’s abolition that Dean hired Hitchcock.
Dean raised millions of dollars from gays and lesbians for his 2004 presidential campaign on the strength of his signing a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions in 2000 when he was governor of Vermont. State Auditor Ed Flanagan, who was elected as an openly gay man and led the lobbying effort for the civil union bill, has said that the governor never lifted a finger to secure the bill’s passage, and only signed it "in the closet" of his office, with no press present.
Hitchcock is a former staffer of the Human Rights Campaign and previously served as executive director of the National Coalition of LGBT Health. He has been replaced as Dean’s gay advisor by Brian Bond, who had likely been headed to the post of executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats. His acceptance of the DNC post means the Stonewall Democrats remain without a new permanent director. Bond is a former executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund which works for the election of gay and lesbian candidates. Bond currently lives in New York.