What Does Sexual Orientation Have to Do With Positions on Syrian Refugees?

It turns out they have nothing to do with each other, which has some people upset.


Kyrsten Sinema
Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

The stated goal of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund is fairly simple: to increase the number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people holding elected positions in the United States. It doesn't automatically endorse a candidate for being LGBT, though. They have a vetting process to make sure the candidate also has community support and a good chance of winning and that they support efforts to "advance LGBT civil rights via the legislative and regulatory processes" (which could, depending on the issue, actually leave out some LGBT candidates). Candidates are also expected to endorse privacy rights and reproductive freedom to get an endorsement.

But that's it. There's no litmus test for political affiliation, or taxes, or school choice, or foreign policy. This became a sticking point over the weekend for some in the LGBT community when three openly LGBT Democratic representatives—Jared Polis (Colorado), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Sean Patrick Maloney (New York)—voted last week counter to President Barack Obama's wishes and in favor of legislation that demands increased background checks of refugees from Syria and Iraq. All three candidates have endorsements from the Victory Fund.

Gay activist, author, and radio host Michelangelo Signorile was angry about their vote and said that the Victory Fund should drop them. He posted on Facebook:

Totally shameful and Victory Fund & Institute should dump them just as it doesn't accept anti-choice, racist candidates even if they're LGBT. Equality should be litmus test of anyone in "LGBT Equality Caucus" in Congress. And realize that these individuals voted against desperate LGBT Syrian refugees -- there was hope 500 of the refugee spaces would be set aside for them. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is the worst: She was actually an attorney for an Iraqi refugee in '07, arguing that his vetting was taking too long, over 2 years, discriminated against based on his nationality. Now she votes this way. She's a total fraud. We don't need these people folks. Let's get pro-LGBT, real progressives (on all the issues), gay or straight, in office. [Emphasis added]

That bold part is where Signorile runs into a problem. Being gay has absolutely nothing to do with being "progressive (on all the issues)." The Victory Fund's standard is not "progressive." It doesn't indicate that it wants progressive candidates. It has a selective group of issues. Adding even more criteria to get a nomination goes against its goal of getting openly LGBT candidates into office and would dilute the value of its endorsements (and probably the number of them). It's not a group whose goal is to get "progressives" elected.

So, unsurprisingly, the Victory Fund isn't inclined to suddenly add a new test for endorsements that has absolutely nothing to do with its mission. Via the Washington Blade:

[Victory Fund CEO Aisha] Moodie-Mills said she was made aware of the disappointment in the lawmakers' votes via Twitter, but on the issue of endorsements said the Victory Fund and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute are "not policy advocacy organizations."

"I don't have an opinion about…who's doing what, where about Syria," Moodie-Mills said. "Because Syria, I tell you, is certainly not my policy expertise, and it is the furthest thing from Victory Institute's expertise."

Moodie-Mills said the Victory Fund continues to have three criteria for endorsing candidates: They must be viable, pro-choice and in favor of LGBT rights.

"That's about as deep in the weeds on any policy ideas or legislative maneuvers that we get," she added. "Other organizations are dealing with issues and issue advocacy, but that's not the role that we play. And for our candidates and for our elected officials, we surely don't get involved in the devil of the details of how they legislate and what they vote for and what they support."

While I disagree with the votes by Polis, Sinema, and Maloney, it is time now for gay activists to start coming to terms (just as the rest of America is coming to terms with gay relationships) with the realization that being a member of the LGBT community does not come with any obligation to support a whole host of progressive policies. It does not logically follow that support for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act also means support for letting in more Syrian refugees, regardless of their sexual orientations. They are completely different issues with completely different considerations, and the fact that some refugees are likely going to be gay doesn't change the fact that they're completely unrelated.