11 years out
Unlike the Log Cabin Republicans, the Stonewall Democrats is a relatively new organization in South Carolina. In fact, the group is still in the formative stages, with several noted gay rights advocates from Charleston playing a key role getting it off the ground, including former Alliance for Full Acceptance head Susie Prueter. We recently spoke with Keith Riddle of the Stonewall Democrats about the new statewide political organization. He previously worked with Equality Florida, a gay-friendly lobbying group. The parent of two children, Riddle wants to make sure the world they inherit is a more tolerant one.
Why the delay in getting the Stonewall Democrats formed here in Charleston?
Part of it is that the Democratic Party is less represented in South Carolina anyway. It was kind of a thing partly where folks went along with whatever the state party was doing. But now it’s easier to be out and take a stand, especially with this particular election. As much as anything else, it is this particular election where there is a chance to make a real difference that Stonewall Democrats are coming together … Had this election not come along, I think the Stonewall Democrats would have started up anyway. What has happened a lot of times in the past has been that the gay and lesbian community, although very interested in politics, is somewhat a little more lackadaisical in getting out and voting. And for this particular election and future elections, Stonewall Democrats are going to work really hard in getting the community involved and active and out to vote.
What is it about this election that is causing the gay community and specifically the Stonewall Democrats here in South Carolina to get active?
Obviously, there is going to be a change in leadership. I believe the Democratic candidates that are running for president are more aware of addressing the concerns of the gay and lesbian community. In the past it has not been quite as big an issue for the Democratic leadership. This time it really is. And I think it is more based on the fact that in this particular election, gay and lesbian issues are not seen as lightning rods. Rather, they are being seen as a constituency.
Why do you think gay issues are not lightning-rod issues this time around?
Part of it is that when you open those issues up, people lose sight of the individual behind the questions. Gay marriage is obviously the one that tends to rile everyone up. What happens is you take it away from here are two people who love each other and they want to be recognized in their relationship. It gets away from that, and it becomes the whole thing about how do you change insurance laws, how do you change religious understanding, and how do you change this and that. This particular time it is much more about reaching out to the gay and lesbian community and saying, “Tell me how you feel” … This time I don’t think the candidates feel like they are going to be attacked for taking a stand. In the circles that I travel in, I don’t hear people saying, “So and so is in favor of gay marriage, so and so isn’t.” It’s much more of, this person is much more progressive overall. That’s more of the focus and not just those lightning rod issues.
That in and of itself is a step forward.
And amazingly so … This particular time, the fact that people can sit down and not have these lightning rods there and be able to say, “Tell me what your concerns are,” is much more open and healthy and encouraging, not just to the gay and lesbian community, but all of us. — Chris Haire
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