Iowa Makes History Again

Coming out of the political closet.

The Iowa Caucus made history.

It made history for women, it made history for America. A woman and a Cuban American won the Democratic and Republican caucuses. It was not what anyone expected, but it was history nonetheless.

Winners get to write history and women are rarely winners in our patriarchal world, which is why we have to grab hold of every win and hold it up to other women and especially to girls so they know they can do it, too.

The Iowa Caucus was one such moment.


I came out as a lesbian in high school. Or rather I was outed by my then-girlfriend’s mother. She called the principal of our all-girls schoola school my sister, mother and grandmother all attendedand told them I had “seduced” her daughter, an upper-class woman two grades ahead of me. She couldn’t face the idea that her daughter was a lesbian.

My school was legendary. A public school for smart girls who were also poor. A college prep school where we were on the pipeline to college the instant we walked through the doors. A school with an entrance exam. A school then-ranked as one of the top 20 in the nationlisted alongside white-only, male-only private college prep schools like Andover and Exeter.

I was expelled for being a “bad moral influence” on the other girls. No one stood up for meincluding several teachers who had been lesbians since my mother had attended two decades earlier.

That trial by fire ruined my young life for a long time, closing many doors to me as a poor white girl just this side of “trash.” It opened me to a lifetime of being name-called, but it also made me into an activist.

Something in me clicked: I would never sit by silent when I witnessed injustice.

A few years later, when I was in college, my then-partner and I were star witnesses in the first major police brutality trial in our city. A trial that would not have happened without us because we came forward, we searched the scene for evidence, we called the FBI and the police and the local daily newspaper. A trial that lasted months. A trial that had us harassed and threatened and terrorized by police night and day in ways that couldn’t be done now.

We were called dykes on the evening news, we were maligned and castigated. My partnera social workernearly lost her job. I had to take several incompletes that semester, which almost lost me my scholarship.

We had witnessed a black man being beaten by several white police officers late one night and we refused to be silent. Then, as now, the police were exonerated. I was 19. I was shattered. How could the jury not find for the victim? One of the reporters on the case who would win a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage suggested I write an Op-Ed for the local daily newspaper. I did. A decade later I would be working there and soon after that, become the first out lesbian with a column in a daily newspaper, for which I would be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. If I have had one consistent beat over the years it’s been justice.

As a lesbian, you never stop coming out. It’s not just one event. It’s myriad events. Over and over and over you have to reveal yourself to people. New friends, colleagues, doctorsit never ends and the rejections, the step back, the “OhI had no idea” never ends.

In the 1980s and 90s I was on TV a lot on talk shows as what I referred to as “the lesbian in a dress”talking about lesbian politics and being a “first” because I was pretty and articulate and producers said I didn’t “look” like a lesbian.

Coming out had somehow become part of my job. On TV. For the world to see.

Apparently, now in my 50s, it still is.

Straight people can’t imagine what it is to be LGBT in America or anywhere else. White people can’t imagine what it is to be in skin that doesn’t carry the stamp of white privilege. And men can’t imagine what it is to be female.

That last is today’s coming out story. I am coming out as a woman voter.

I am coming out for Hillary Clinton for president.

I am also coming out against every man running for president.

Some of you will stop reading now. But I urge you to read on. Because this is important. Not because I am writing it, but because it’s not just about me: It’s about lesbianswhite lesbians and lesbians of color and immigrant lesbians who may or may not be documented, and poor lesbians and disabled lesbians. It’s about our lesbian lives.

It’s about women’s livesespecially the lives of poor women of every color and old women of every color who, like lesbians, are the most likely to die in America just for being who they are.

It’s about survival.

In 2004 I had written, the day after seeing him speak at the DNC, that Barack Obama would likely be America’s first black president. I said I would bet any amount of money on it. People scoffed at me.

If only I had made some of those bets.

Nowhere on my list was Hillary Clinton, although I had written to her at one point during her husband’s second term and gotten a letter in return, which I still have.

When I saw her speak in New Hampshire, I became a supporter. I was afraid Obama wasn’t readythat he was too young and hadn’t been in politics long enough. I thought she had gravitas. I thought, not long into the campaign, that Clinton and Obama would be a dynamic ticket that would change American politics.

Fast forward eight years and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, together as a team and separately as President and Secretary of State, have indeed changed American politics. So much so that all the GOP has to run on is “Let’s take America back!”

Back from what? From whom?

During the Iowa Caucus on Feb. 1, Jose Antonio Vargas, America’s most famous undocumented citizen and a gay man and a brilliant writer, asked that question: Back from what?

I responded to him: “From that black guy in the White House, from undocumented immigrants like yourself, from lesbians like me.”

From The Other.

The morning after the Iowa Caucus I watched a dozen or more white men talking about what had happened in Iowa and making predictions and ignoring the reality of what the rest of us know about Iowa. While America is 17% Latin@, 13% African American and 5% Asian (and 52% women), Iowa is 94% white and America’s sixth whitest state. The next caucus, New Hampshire is in America’s second whitest state: 97% white.

How is America represented by Iowa? Or New Hampshire, which is also one of America’s wealthiest states? Where are the rest of us?

For several months I have been writing about thisabout how non-representative these two early primaries are. I tried to get #PrimariesSoWhite trending on Twitter, but it never happened. I also created the hashtag #MakeAmericaWhiteAgain in response to Donald Trump’s #MakeAmericaGreatAgainbecause when he and others say that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have “ruined” America, that’s what they mean. That they have put people of color in the forefront. That President Obama has said if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin and Hillary Clinton has met with myriad black leaders as well as mothers of murdered young black men and that she went to Charleston when no one else did.

And yes, I know Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who came in first and third with Trump second in Iowa are both Latin@ candidates from immigrant families. But they run against immigrants all the time and at the last GOP debate fought each other on how tough the other was on keeping other non-white people out of America. People like their Cuban immigrant parents were. Jeb Bush uses the term “anchor baby,” forgetting the term can be used about his own children, because their mother is a Mexican-born immigrant.

When my old friend Urvashi Vaid founded LPACa lesbian political organization much like Emily’s List dedicated to getting women elected, I cheered. [Urvashi Vaid’s Irresistible Revolution ] Finally, there would be a group that focused on lesbians and our political needs. Finally someone was putting us first, making us matter.

LPAC came out for Hillary Clinton nearly a year ago.

I am late to the party.

Yet it wasn’t LPAC or even other lesbians (all my closest friends and my partner are strong Hillary supporters) who have brought me to coming out for Hillary. It was black women. It was African American friends and colleagues who talked to me repeatedly about how important it was to carry on both the work of President Obama for whom I voted to change history and break the color barrier on the White House, but also the work for women that Clinton has done for decades for women and children.

The mothers also led me there: Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. All these brave women stepped out of their grief to endorse Clinton for president.


In an Op-Ed for Essence magazine, McBath wrote about that connection between Obama and Clinton that has so defined the past few years for many Americans, making that connection my black women friends kept making in conversations with me.

McBath wrote, Hillary has detailed plans to build on President Obama’s executive actions, closing loopholes that still allow dangerous people to buy firearms at gun shows and on the Internet. Back when she was first lady, Hillary rallied the nation to pass the Brady Bill, a law that established federal background checks on many gun sales. In the Senate, she fought against a law called PLCCA, which continues to grant gun manufacturers and dealers sweeping immunity from lawsuits.

“And Hillary has a plan to finally repeal the “Charleston loophole” so that fewer of our sons and daughters perish at the hands of dangerous individuals. Today a convicted felon, or someone with a dangerous mental illness, can walk into a gun store, and if their background check is not completed within three days, they can still be sold a firearm. Thanks to this loophole, in the last five years gun dealers have proceeded with more than 15,000 sales to prohibited people because their background check could not be completed within the three-day period.”

That “Charleston loophole” contributed to the killing of black women at prayer last June in Charleston by a young white supremacist who was not “crazy”yet thought it was okay to open fire on old women at prayer. [Racist Terror in South Carolina]    In endorsing Clinton, McBath is succinct about the other candidates: “Unfortunately the same cannot be said of any of the other GOP candidates who are in lock step with the NRA. It also cannot be said of Senator Sanders. He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He also voted for PLCCA, the law that gives gun manufacturers and dealers immunity, not once, but twice, and he continues to say that his vote wasn’t a mistake; that ‘it’s complicated.’”

McBath says there is “Only one candidate has a proven record of doing just that [taking a stand on gun violence]and that’s why #ImWithHer.”

It’s impossible to read McBath’s column without crying. It’s three years since her son was killed for being a black teenagersitting in a car playing music when a white man told him to turn it down and then shot him to death in a convenience store parking lot.

Killed for being Other.

Like lesbians are killed for being Other.

One of the arguments often used against Clinton is her vote for the Iraq Wara vote also cast by Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry. She has apologized repeatedly for that vote, noting she votedas did the overwhelming majority of Congressbased on the best information at the time.

To his credit, Bernie Sanders voted against authorizing that war (he voted for Afghanistan and Libya). But 100,000 American are shot each year and 35,000 die. That’s a half million Americans dead from gun violence since the Iraq War vote and nearly a million since the first Brady Bill vote.

I have bullet holes in my living room and dining room windows. Sanders’ gun votesand there are manymatter to me even more than Clinton’s Iraq vote. Where’s his apology to match hers?

The Iowa Caucus was wonby the slimmest of margins in Democratic Primary historyby Hillary Clinton. It was an historic moment for American women. It was the opportunity for Sen. Sanders to congratulate America–not just Clinton, but us as a nationfor doing something historic, for taking another step toward equality. But instead he claimed victory, he claimed history. (Another white man in Iowa is historic how, exactly?)

He claimed her place at the table. A privileged white man who has been a backbencher in Congress for three decades and is the epitome of a Washington insider, even as he talks about being an outsider, took away her place at the tablea place no American woman has ever had.

That was my coming out moment. Until then, I had equivocated on Twitter “I’m a lifelong Socialist, I will support whoever the Democratic nominee is. #UniteBlue” I have never used the #ImWithHer hashtag. I have complained about the Bernie Bros and gotten an intense amount of abuse from Sanders’ supporters, but I have never said anything negative about Sanders and I have often said I think some of his ideas are important. I have agreed that he has nudged Hillary left, just as she has nudged him left. 

But now I am seeing something that I saw briefly when Sanders’ team broke into Clinton’s files in December [As The Year Winds Down, The Presidential Campaign Heats Up ]–entitlement. Sanders believes there’s no room for Clinton at any table. He believes that he is the one making history.

He is not.

Sanders and his supporters have repeatedly taken credit for Hillary Clinton’s work and ideas. Men do this all the timeSheryl Sandberg writes about it in Lean In. Men do it and women say nothing. In fact, women support the men doing it, rather than the women whose ideas have been stolen. [Hillary Clinton Is Running for President]

Clinton said, in one speech, “In too many instances, the march to globalization has also meant the marginalization of women and girls. That must change.”

To black clergy with whom she met last week in Philadelphia sans press, sans photo ops, she said, “Anyone running for president should see things as they actually are, not just as we want them to be, talk about the real problems not try to create and inhabit some alternative universe.”

She spoke about inequity and she spoke about the Flint water crisis, about which she was the only candidate to speak at the last Democratic debate. (The black woman mayor of Flint, Karen Weaver, has endorsed Clinton because she was the one who sent aides there and got Gov. Snyder to get help for Flint from President Obama.)

Sanders speaks incessantly about The Establishment. It is literally his one note. He references “the oligarchs” on a daily basis and his mostly young, mostly never voted before, almost wholly white supporters nod their heads solemnly and cheer.

Come to my 95% black, 95% poor neighborhood and ask about the Establishment and the oligarchs and get run out of the neighborhood. Try asking about the sewers that fill up every time it rains, the slow response time from both police and fire departments, the one window open at the post office, no banks but dozens of payday loan and check-cashing places, the school a block from my house with no library, the homes with no Wifi or no computers or no books.

Or no food.

Ask about the neighborhood filled with single old women who fear

going out because of all the guns. Ask about the vacant houses that are a lure for addicts doing drugs.

Ask about non-white America.

Hillary came here and she asked. And she listened. In her original video when she first announced, Hillary included everyone: white, black, Latin@, Asian. Straight, gay, lesbian. Young and old. Moms. Workers. America.

Sanders talks about the Establishment and points to Clinton–but he’s been a congressperson from America’s third wealthiest and second whitest state for 30 years. How much more establishment can one be?

Sanders thought President Obama was so establishment, he wanted him primaried in 2012 and the African American consultant he has speak at some rallies is Cornel West, a former professor who is now best known for saying Obama “n*ggerized” the White House.

Is Hillary Clinton “establishment” as Sanders claims?

Not really. Because despite all the GOP memes that Sanders repeats as if they are fact, in a recent Politico interview, Obama called Clinton “a disciplined, thoughtful leader” who “knows every policy inside and out” and can “start here, [on] day one.”

He said Sanders has yet to be vetted.

But most importantly, Obama said, “She had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels.She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her.”

She was not, “the Establishment.”

But the man who refuses to acknowledge Clinton’s history-making win, slender as it might have been (a one-point field goal at the Super Bowl in the final three seconds still wins the game)? That guy is behaving Establishment all the way. That guy is showing not his alleged independent roots, but his white male 50 years in the nation’s whitest and richest state entitlement.

And so I am coming out Hillary. No equivocations, no going back into the closet.

I am listening to my friends of color, straight and lesbian who are not Establishment and who have reminded me repeatedly that I am Other, just differently so. I am listening to all the wonderful black women and men in my life who I am privileged to know and who aren’t just voting Hillary, they are working to make sure she gets elected.

Women have never had a place at the presidential table in all the years since George Washington was elected in 1789. And when one more white man, like 43 of 44 presidents have been steals the place at the table from the one woman to crash that glass ceiling of Iowa? That’s establishment as it gets.

#ImWithHer. Because after 227 years, it’s time.