This is one of a series of reports by members of a University of Washington journalism class taught by professor David Domke. The students have been covering the presidential race in Washington, Idaho, and Texas. For more coverage by the class, go to their blog, Seattlepoliticore.org.
Across the country, dinner table conversations are split over this year's Democratic nomination. The divide crosses race, religion and even party lines. The Houston GLBTs (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual people) are no different. Their two major groups in the city are split, as is the general community. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsed Obama last week, but the Houston Area Stonewall Democrats endorsed Clinton. Determined and loyal Clinton supporters campaigning in the area are countered by the many passionate Obama supporters, canvassing the streets of Houston.
After meeting Saturday night at the Starbucks on Montrose Blvd., more than a dozen Obama volunteers headed out for what they referred to as the "Gayborhood," a section of town just off Montrose lined with gay and lesbian clubs, bars, restaurants and of course, voters. They were there to inform and get out the vote. A few stood on street corners asking passers-by the same questions: Are you voting for Obama? Are you going to caucus? Have you told your friends?
Others surveyed the bars, initiating one-on-one discussions about the election. Rebekah Lee, a volunteer from Bellingham, WA, pulled up a copy of Obama's recent open letter to the GLBT community on her cell phone to show on-the-fence-voters a reason to consider Obama. "I really believe in Barack for our time," said Lee. "He's not afraid to answer a question with an Ã¢'ê¬ËI don't know' or give you the tough answer. I can tell Barack wants the office to be able to serve people."
Randall Ellis, chair of the Texans for Obama Steering Committee, organized Saturday's canvassing. "I've been really making sure we talk to people at forums and community events to convey Sen. Obama's stance on the issues that are important to this community," said Ellis. Republican Noel Freeman joined the effort Saturday, explaining to voters why he's making the party jump to support Barack Obama. "I'm not a single issue voter, but because of what's happened to (the GLBT community) over the last eight years with the Federal Marriage Amendment," he said, "and because the country has been so divisive and our community has been used as a part of that, it's important for me at this point in my life to support a candidate who is good on our issues."
The next day, on another side of town, the Clinton GLBT organizers showed up with their heavy hitter. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, well know for his controversial endorsement of same-sex marriages, spoke to the gathering at Guava Lamp, a predominantly gay bar in Houston. "I was very disappointed when Barack Obama said he didn't see any difference between civil union and marriage," the mayor told us before going on stage. "To me it was very hurtful, particularly coming from someone in the African American community who understands separate is not equal."
Obama supporters, however, found equal fault with some of Clinton's GLBT policies, particularly with regard to transgendered individuals.
"I was very disappointed with a lot of Democrats, including Barack, who hasn't talked much about the transgender community either," said Newsom.
The GLBT community in Houston as a whole has shown extensive political awareness. Sitting at a local coffee shop, Damon Constantine and Noah Ball discussed the pros and cons of various candidates. "Hillary solidified the gay community long ago. Bill Clinton was very pro-gay, and she marched in the New York Pride Parade," said Ball.
"People have different opinions about that though," Constantine responded. "Bill signed into law 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and somewhat betrayed the people he worked so hard to support."
At the Obama canvassing event Saturday, volunteers handled questions raised by undecided voters. Even on general election issues, volunteers such as Vanessa Edwards-Foster provided educated answers. Edwards-Foster explained to several voters how the delegate system works and the Democratic Party's national quota for various demographics. "On the national level, they are looking for 27 trans delegates," she explained to one group. "I know it doesn't sound like a lot, but we only had five last time."