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LeftOut: A Lot of Firsts

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15 random things about Democrats

By Brandon Wolf

BrandonW1. The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the United States. It is also one of the oldest in the world. It traces its origins to the Democratic–Republican Party of 1792. In 1828 it became the Democratic Party. Although popularly symbolized by a donkey, the Democratic Party has never endorsed its use.    2. Democrat James Buchanan is assumed to be the first gay president. Buchanan, the 15th U.S. president, served from 1857 to 1861. Buchanan lived for 15 years with William Rufus King, the 13th U.S. vice president. The two men were considered inseparable. Other politicians nicknamed King as “Miss Nancy,” “Buchanan’s wife,” and “Aunt Fancy.” King died four years before Buchanan became president. The nieces of both men destroyed all of their correspondence with each other.   

 3. Democrat Rose Cleveland is the only known lesbian first lady. Cleveland, the 26th first lady, was the sister of Grover Cleveland, and served from 1885 to 1886. She moved from the White House after her brother married. At age 44, she entered into a lesbian relationship with wealthy widow Evangeline Simpson. They eventually moved to Bagni di Lucca, Italy, and lie buried side by side in the English Cemetery there.

 4. Lady Bird Johnson, a Democrat and the 43rd first lady, defied her husband only once during their marriage—to defend longtime aide Walter Jenkins during a gay sex scandal. Lyndon Johnson’s top aide, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in October 1964 for administering oral sex in a YMCA bathroom. Jenkins had worked for Johnson since 1939. The arrest, just blocks from the White House, ended his White House career. Lady Bird Johnson’s statement of support read: “My heart is aching today for someone who has reached the end point of exhaustion in dedicated service to his country.” Her comment changed the political climate of the scandal.

5. The first major political party platform plank supporting gay marriage equality was at the Minnesota State Democratic Convention in June 1972. Activist Jack Baker and other GLBT delegates convinced the convention to adopt the plank. Baker was also the first openly gay candidate to successfully be elected as a college student government president.

6. The first openly gay and lesbian speakers at a political convention spoke during television prime time at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Delegates Jim Foster and Madeline Davis called on the Democratic Party to add a gay rights plank to the party platform. They got a minority report to the floor, but the plank was defeated.

 7. The first national gay rights bill was introduced by Democrats in the U.S. House in 1974. Democratic U.S. Representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch introduced H.R. 14752. The bill proposed adding “sexual orientation” to the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act. The bill was not passed.

 8. Democrat Elaine Noble was the first openly GLBT candidate elected to a statewide office. She served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975 to 1979, representing the Fenway-Kenmore/Back Bay neighborhoods of Boston. She had a romantic relationship with author Rita Mae Brown in the 1970s. She currently lives in Florida.

 9. Democrat Jimmy Carter was the first president to invite a delegation of gay and lesbian activists to the White House. On March 26, 1977, fourteen GLBT leaders and activists met with presidential liaison Midge Costanza. They discussed discriminatory treatment of lesbians and gay men at the Internal Revenue Service, the Departments of Defense, Housing and Urban Development, Health Education and Welfare, the Federal Communications Commission, the Bureau of Prisons, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Separate meetings with each agency followed.

 10. The first mention of the gay community at a presidential inauguration was at the 1993 inauguration of Democrat Bill Clinton. Poet Maya Angelou included gays in her poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning.”  

 11. Democratic President Bill Clinton appointed the first openly gay and HIV-positive man to be a presidential assistant. Bob Hattoy served as associate personnel director for the Clinton White House from 1993 to 1999. Hattoy addressed the 1992 Democratic National Convention on the subject of AIDS. He died in 2007. He asked that his ashes be preserved in a martini shaker.  

 12. All but two of the votes against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act were cast by Democrats. In the U.S. Senate, 14 Democratic senators voted “nay.” In the U.S. House, 65 Democratic representatives voted “nay.” The act bans federal government recognition of gay marriages and allows states the right not to recognize gay marriages from other states.   

 13. Democrat Tammy Baldwin was the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Baldwin was elected as a U.S. representative from Wisconsin in 1998, after receiving 53 percent of the vote. She still serves in the same position. Prior to her election to the U.S. House, she was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly for six years.    

 14. James Hormel, the first openly gay ambassador, was appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton. Hormel was sworn in on June 29, 1999, as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. His partner at the time, Timothy Wu, held the Bible at the ceremony. His former wife, five children, and several of 13 grandchildren also attended.

 15. Democrat Hillary Clinton was the first U.S. first lady to march in a gay pride parade. Clinton marched in the New York Gay Pride Parade in March 2000. She joined the same parade several times in later years as the U.S. senator from New York. Clinton now serves as U.S. Secretary of State for Democratic President Barack Obama.

 Brandon Wolf founded the online group, Houston Activist Network (Han-Net), which is now LoneStarActivists.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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