Posted: May 30, 2003
THE OUT CROWD IS IN
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
When Democrat Charles M. Oberly III was
running for the U.S. Senate in 1994, he was approached quietly by
some gay and lesbian voters who wanted to host a fund-raiser for
him, although they were somewhat hesitant.
They wanted to help Oberly, then the state's
attorney general, but only if he thought their involvement wouldn't
hurt his chances against William V. Roth Jr., then the four-term
It didn't -- Oberly was going to lose, no
matter what, in that huge Republican year -- but there was enough
concern that the event was kept low key and became known publicly
only because of an anonymous tip to a political writer.
What a difference a new decade makes.
A group called the Delaware Stonewall
Democratic Club, a chapter of a national organization formed by gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has been set up here, and
Democratic State Chairman Richard H. Bayard couldn't get it to the
table fast enough.
The Stonewall Democrats have a seat on the
party's executive committee, and their activities are listed in the
Democratic newsletter and on the Web site.
"It's an exciting development. How many groups
are there that say, 'We're Democrats, and we want to help'? It's the
single greatest wealthy, intelligent, activist resource untapped out
there," Bayard said.
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner also sent a message of
welcome with her recent endorsement of a gay anti-discrimination
bill, usually referred to by its number as House Bill 99. While
advisers to Minner, a first-term Democrat, said she did it because
it was the right thing to do, there was no denying that her support
was expected to help her in the state's populous urban and suburban
areas, as well as with the gay vote.
Nor can it go unnoticed in party circles that
the Stonewall Democrats, while statewide, are based in Rehoboth
Beach in Sussex County, where the Democrats are floundering. The
party needs something to counter a growing Republican trend there,
after two state representatives lost their seats in 2000 and U.S.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. barely carried the county.
The Delaware chapter is starting off as if it
means business. After adopting bylaws in February and beginning
monthly meetings in March, it has scheduled its first big event for
this summer. The draw for a fund-raiser on July 19 in Rehoboth Beach
is U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a wisecracking Massachusetts Democrat who once
described himself as a "left-handed, gay Jew."
The organization's name is linked to an event
generally regarded as the birth of the modern gay movement for equal
rights. When police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay establishment in
New York City, in 1969, the patrons decided enough was enough and
fought back. It led to a three-day riot that has served as a
rallying point ever since.
The president of the Delaware chapter is
Timothy C. Spies (pronounced Speez), a Rehoboth Beach
resident originally from Dover, a graduate of Dover High School and
the University of Delaware. In typical Delaware fashion, he is a law
school classmate of Bayard's from Widener, although Spies never
practiced law, instead working in business in Philadelphia before
retiring to the beach.
"We are first and foremost Democrats. We are
partisan," Spies said. "We embrace the party platform, which in turn
The immediate focus of the Stonewall Democrats
is the passage of the gay anti-discrimination legislation, which
currently is short the votes it needs, but the group expects to be
involved in politics beyond that, Spies said.
At the May meeting of the Stonewall Democrats,
the featured speaker was state Rep. Peter C. Schwartzkopf, a newly
elected Democrat whose district includes Rehoboth Beach. He said
there were 54 people in attendance, a respectable number, and he
came away thinking the group really did mean to have a part to play
"They're organized with a purpose,"
Schwartzkopf said. "They have the individual people in place who
will continue to work."
Spies says the Stonewall Democrats hope to
inspire openly gay or lesbian candidates to run for public office,
and that says something. A community that once was nervous about
even supporting a candidate, as it was with Charlie Oberly, appears
on the verge of having its own become candidates themselves.
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