Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gray's Dabbled In Gay-Baiting Before

The king of the political media establishment, Jon Ralston, has joined political consultant Gary Gray in ridiculing the notion that Gray was gay-baiting when he compared his State Senate candidate's being married with kids and grandkids to her opponent's being single, 42 and occasionally living with mom.

Except it turns out, Gray's done it before -- and was called out on it by gay activists at the time, too.

See full size imageFour years ago, Gray ran the campaign of now-Treasurer Kate Marshall in a primary battle against fellow Democrat Geoffrey VanderPal, left. VanderPal is gay. Gray knew that. In the waning days of that campaign, Marshall sent out a mailer eerily similar to the one Gray sent for Kathy McClain last week in which, among other things, he compared the two candidates by noting that Marshall was in a stable, married relationship with children and VanderPal was single.

Nobody can dig up the precise wording, but again it struck many gays who read it as the same sort of code: Kate's a married hetero mom, VanderPal is not.

The best part: Gay activists called Gary Gray at the time and complained. They told him the code they read into that comparison and . . . he laughed at them! He was just pointing out that Marshall has a more stable life than VanderPal, that's all, he told those who spoke to him.

[Side note: I'm now hearing of a third instance of this. I've not confirmed it, but if I have three, that's a trend, right, Jon?]

Marshall, like McClain, is a full-throated ally of gay people. But just because you're an ally doesn't mean that you or your campaign won't sink to make a little subtle implication that might scrounge a few votes and otherwise (hopefully) go unnoticed. In the 2006 case, Marshall was already running away with the race, which she won by more than 40 points. So it wasn't even necessary, but Gray did it anyway.

When I confronted Gray about this language in his mailer for Grandmother McClain, he laughed at me, told me no gay people he knew took it that way -- even though his own close gay friend and Mount Charleston neighbor Bob Forbuss did -- and said that it was actually supposed to be code for the notion that opponent Mark Manendo is a sexual predator. That was nonsensical; that's not what being a 42-year-old unmarried Momma's boy has ever implied. Ralston bought it, though.

Now that we know Gray has used this marriage-and-kids idea before and has been called on it, what does it mean? Two things:

(a) He had already been told by gays that such language was code to them and criticism of lifestyle choices offended them, despite his claim that he'd never heard of anything so ridiculous.
(b) He didn't mean it to imply a history of illegal sexual harassment for VanderPal, so surely he also didn't mean it in that light for Manendo, either. It was a tactic he'd used before for the same purpose.

I spoke to VanderPal today. He now lives in Texas. He confirmed all this and added another wrinkle.

VanderPal was NOT single during the 2006 campaign. He was in a long-term relationship with his partner of at least three years. So Gray, in fact, punished VanderPal for not being married when, in fact, he couldn't be married because it was and still is not legal here. At the very least, he devalued VanderPal's same-sex relationship in a way quite unbecoming of a pro-gay-marriage Democrat.

As it happened, Manendo isn't single, either. He's had a girlfriend for more than four years. So what we conclude -- at best! -- is that Gray does not view as valid any relationship that is not sanctified by legal marriage and which has not produced children.

Guess who else haven't reproduced? Why, Gary Gray and his wife of 23 years, County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani. Does that, Gary, makes your wife less worthy of her office than a married mother who might run against her. Too personal? You started it.

The relevance of one's personal marital and familial status to the ability to serve in office well escapes me and is an especially weird argument coming from Democrats, who I always thought didn't wish to judge people's relationship choices or lack thereof. I could argue that being single and/or having no kids gives you more time to devote to public service and that Grandmother McClain might be distracted from her task of representing the district by all her matronly duties. I don't believe that, but it has more merit than the reverse.

This whole episode is proving very costly for McClain, but I've yet to see her or Gray apologize for the verbage. In not doing so, they're violating Ralston's Rule of Campaigning, which is that if you screw up, you don't keep digging yourself deeper in the hole.

Instead, check out what hits newstands tomorrow for 10,000+ GLBT readers in Vegas:

Here's a closer look at the good part:

That's pretty bad, especially since the majority of Vegas' gay bars -- where the Nightbeat has the bulk of its distribution -- are in Senate District 7. Commercial Center, where there are other bars and the Gay & Lesbian Community Center is located, is just a block outside of it.

On reflection, there's one more thing that's offensive about all this. Jon Ralston, in trying to protect his ability to decide for everyone else whether something is or isn't a real issue, decided to tell a long-oppressed minority group how they should feel about language they instinctively recognize from their history to be code. In defense of his turf, he decided it was absurd because he knows Gray is personally gay-friendly as is Grandmother McClain, and thus they get a pass from doing anything insensitive. Somehow the great pooh-bah of Vegas political journalism forgot just how ruthless politicians and their operatives can be; suddenly he thinks people in this realm have some code of scruples that wouldn't be crossed in the heat of a bitter campaign.

The matter of gay-baiting "never should have been raised," Ralston wrote in his email blast yesterday. That may show just how irrelevant and silly he views gay people; can you imagine him suggesting to the black or Jewish communities that they shouldn't feel a certain way about something that has offended them? It would never happen.

Put it this way: If Gray had asserted that a male candidate was "more stable" because he's married with kids and compared that unfavorably to an unmarried, motherless middle-aged female candidate, feminists would be rightfully outraged and Ralston would never tell them not to be. It would be obvious sexism. Gray's doing the reverse, suggesting that men should be married with kids or else they're flawed. That's sexism, too, and in these cases it carries the tinge of being heterosexist, too.

Ralston bought Gray's notion that the line was a precursor to a campaign against Manendo's alleged sexual harassment history. Jon didn't care that that made no sense, but now that Gray has a history of using this language for candidates who could be perceived to be gay, maybe he'll see it differently. I doubt it.

In the process, Ralston's missing a political sea change. This may be the first time the gay community in Nevada has been able to sway an election because of something that offended it. The pundit can try to protect his turf or he can acknowledge that McClain, via Gray, made a grave misstep that is helping show the first signs of muscle for a constituency that has heretofore been toothless. It's a coming-of-age moment, albeit one impossible to prove. You can be sure, however, that future candidates at least in this district will be much more careful and respectful.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I like you Steve. I consider you one of our better writers and journalists in town, and I just like you.

Still, I wonder if you are taking this too personally? It seems like you really have a hatred for Kathy McClain for no apparent reason. Do you hate women, or old people? I just don't get it.

Hiker said...

Jon Ralston has an inflated opinion of his value to the political discourse of this area. Thanks for getting the facts out there.


Anon: Of course i'm taking it personally. My judgment has been called into question even though there's abundant evidence to support my argument.

I wasn't the one who claimed being a grandmother made someone superior. My use of highlighting that for Grandmother McClain is simply an effort to turn the tables on the candidate, to show her how unfair it is to suggest that someone's family status or age makes them better or worse, more or less stable than anyone else.

What I loathe and take personally is hypocrisy. Gray, McClain and Ralston have all shown hypocrisy in spades.

atdnext said...

Mr. Steve-

"Of course i'm taking it personally. My judgment has been called into question even though there's abundant evidence to support my argument."

And I hope you don't mind me defending you here. (Yes, isn't this nice for a change!) ;-)

There's nothing wrong in you taking this personally. This is your Senate District, after all. One of these people will be representing you in Carson City. You know a number of the players in this story.

Now I hope you don't mind me not taking this so personally. I don't live in the district. I'm not too connected to "Gay Inc. Vegas". And really, I don't know how much more of this infighting I can take.

So I'm still finding fault with both sides here, but I will say this. Your revelations on Gary Gray's campaign tactics show that neither he nor Kathy McClain showed good judgment here. Didn't Gray learn anything from 2006? And why would McClain green-light the same kind of negative campaign for here and now?

I'm so over this.

Bill said...


You are a well respected, hard working activist working for equality--in the right way--here in Southern NV--and I greatly respect you for that. And I agree with MOST of what you said in your post above.

BUT, you are tired of all this "in-fighting?" You may personally very well be, but isn't that what a contested Democratic Primary is all about -- by definition? I'd like to call it choosing the right candidate. And no activist can afford to be "tired" of fighting for the candidate he/she feels is best for the job.

Ultimately, the buck stops at the candidate's door for heterocentric, homophobic campaign tactics used on their behalf but is only ONE factor, imo, in choosing between competing candidates.

I, too, am not a member of "Gay Inc., Vegas" -- although, Andrew, you are spot on: there are those in the LGBT community here who certainly are, including many of the members in our community who are now defending Gary Gray on this (when they know damn well that this was gay baiting on Gray's part) --something he has used in campaigns before and he always has a rather flimsy denial ready to pull out of his hat when called on it.) A straight person (hello Jon Ralston) may not recognize gay baiting as what it is, but I can assure you that we GLBT's who have lived with it all our lives certainly do.

You shoudl know this, however: when I objectively, just yesterday, took into consideration all of the above, my research leads me to the conclusion that McClain is indeed the right candidate for the job and I do now support her. (Ater Gray's flyer, I was tempted to support Manendo, being so angry about Gray's tactic.)

Finally, as I was one of the activists who peronally talked to Gary Gray for the very similar tactic he used against Kate Marshall's gay primary opponent in 2006, I blame Gray for this duplidity and lack of principle on his part; i.e., genuinely I believe being very pro-equality personally, BUT not exhibiting that in his campaign tactics/strategies. He's clever in his denials, but not that clever. In 2010, don't you think these pretty transparent tactics should not be part of a respectible, very well-compensated campaign manger, Mr. Gray?

Michael said...

Steve, I've read your blog and column for about two years now, and I definitely can say at times you get a bit 'emotional' in your writing which leads to some bias. However, I don't think it's the case here (just based on what I've read so far), granted my opinion doesn't mean much. But in regards to the capaign manager, typically when you see a repeat pattern like this, it's a better then average chance that it's not always coincidence. So when it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you can reasonably assume it's a duck.

atdnext said...


Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

"BUT, you are tired of all this "in-fighting?" You may personally very well be, but isn't that what a contested Democratic Primary is all about -- by definition?"

I guess I have a different definition. I don't mind primary challenges. I really don't. I just wish both McClain and Manendo were talking less about these scandals and more about education, jobs, budget, transgender civil rights, and other more important issues.

"when I objectively, just yesterday, took into consideration all of the above, my research leads me to the conclusion that McClain is indeed the right candidate for the job and I do now support her."

And I don't fault you one bit. Honestly, McClain does have a better grasp on the issues. I liked her honest answer to Ralston last month on the budget. Sadly, I think her campaign would be much better off if she were focusing on this rather than these weak attacks on Manendo.

"A straight person (hello Jon Ralston) may not recognize gay baiting as what it is, but I can assure you that we GLBT's who have lived with it all our lives certainly do."

How very true! That's why it looks so disingenuous for Ralston to try to "school" Steve Friess on what's gay-baiting and what isn't. While I have plenty of respect for Ralston, his reporting, and his punditry, I don't think he should try to declare himself more of an expert of our LGBTQ community and our politics than those of us who are actually part of the community!

Gay Journo said...

This pisses me off. I don't always (make that rarely) agree with Steve but he's got my complete agreement and support in this instance. Jon Ralston has demonstrated real ignorance about this issue and Gary Gray obviously thinks he's a pretty smart guy. I used to support his wife but I will have to rethink that now. Yes, I think she's tainted by her husband's actions. Politics is personal and Gary Gray has decided to throw some low blows. I'm offended; I fully expect this crap from Republicans but not Democrats.

And Andrew, no offense but you can't call yourself an activist if something like this doesn't sound an alarm for you. Maybe you're blinded by your personal feelings for Steve?

atdnext said...

Gay Journo-

"And Andrew, no offense but you can't call yourself an activist if something like this doesn't sound an alarm for you. Maybe you're blinded by your personal feelings for Steve?"

Actually, I didn't mention it here. Someone else did. I often try not to get "too political" here and on the other Vegas travel blogs, but since my cover has already been blown... I blog here, and I'm the Secretary & Political Director for Stonewall. And while I may not be the most experienced activist, I've been doing this since 2005.

I organized against Prop H8 in California. I walked door-to-door before AND after the election, along with the protests and movie screenings and rallies and organizing summits and other stuff. I started a grassroots pro-marriage-equality group in Orange County before I left for here. And last year, I hardly got any "time off" before I was asked to join the Stonewall board. And help out with campaigns. And dive into just about every LGBTQ issue being debated in Congress right now.

So yes, I think I know what I'm doing and saying here. Steve and I have our disagreements, but we're ultimately cool about it all. Again, I'm looking at the big picture of this SD 7 race. McClain let her campaign turn negative. Manendo has a shady past that lent itself to McClain's attacks. Both candidates have identical records on LGBTQ issues, but neither candidate has been all that visible in the community, including our Stonewall events (neither one has come to any).

And again, why aren't we talking about the actual issues here! What will either of them do about the rampant discrimination against transgender Nevadans? Do either of them support full civil marriage equality? Will either of them fight to restore funding for critical HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs?

Or have Gary Gray's sleazy ads, Jon Ralston's snide dismissals of the reality of the situation, and both McClain's AND Manendo's arguing over nothing just distracted us all from what really matters?


Michael... thanks for the backup, but i've never understood why bias is a bad thing in blogging and columnizing. isn't that what you come here for, to see my perspective and how i support it? :-)