By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Voters who seek options beyond the Republican and Democratic Parties have an exceptionally diverse array of third-party options in Oregon’s political landscape. Equally diverse, though, is the degree to which these parties represent queer equality and the interests of queer individuals with their policies and platforms. Here, PQ presents three individuals from three very different parties as they explain why they are affiliated with their particular party, the ideologies that inform their party’s queer policies, and some of the challenges that third parties face in a two-party system.
THE PACIFIC GREEN PARTY
“I’ve been a member of the Green Party for about 20 years,” says Christina Jean Lugo, secretary of the Pacific Green Party and congressional candidate in the Fifth District. “Ralph [Nader, a former Green Party presidential candidate] was the bait, but the Green Party platforms totally won me over — talking about peace, ecology, and thinking about the future and our responsibilities towards it. They’re a feminist party, and GLBTQ-affirming, anti-racist. Everything that they stood for was something I believed in. I stayed with them, even after I became disillusioned with Ralph.”
The Pacific Green Party is Oregon’s local expression of the national Green Party, whose guiding principles emphasize environmentalism, non-hierarchical participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, peace, and nonviolence. As an expression of this, the party is highly supportive of full queer equality and respect.
“When I came out [as transgender],” Lugo offers as an example, “everyone [in the local party] was really good right away in using the proper pronoun. They’ve been very supportive on an individual level.”
A member of the national Green Party’s Lavender Caucus, Lugo helps educate and guide the party to be more aware and considerate of LGBTQ issues.
“I’d say that the party as a whole is LGBTQ-affirming,” she says, “but it still has a little ways to go in really understanding LGBTQ issues. However, they’re definitely affirming. I think part of my job is educating other Greens, the same way that other Greens educate me about the realities of racism.”
Lugo feels that a critical aspect of achieving truly queer-affirming third parties is community involvement and leadership in the parties themselves.
“I think that if GLBTQ people were more prominent in the party’s leadership, that would be excellent,” she says. “What we need to do as a party as a whole is to attract more progressive Democrats. Many progressives are Greens already, but they’re afraid to be part of the Party because they buy into the two-party duopoly. The Green party can’t do more for the GLBTQ community until members of the community participate in the party.”
THE CONSTITUTION PARTY
Not all third parties have queer representation in their membership — or even want it. “We are unaware of any Constitution Party members who identify as gay or lesbian,” says Constitution Party of Oregon Chairman Jack Alan Brown Jr. “If there are, they have not registered with our party because of that identity, and they have not notified us.”
Originally founded as the U.S. Taxpayer’s Party in 1991 and later absorbing the American Independent Party, the Constitution Party upholds a paleoconservative sensibility that stresses limited government, anti-corporatism, anti-federalism, and strong religious and national identity. The party is unapologetically and explicitly Bible-based, and strict Christian concepts of morality and ethics suffuse the party’s policies.
“We believe with religious fervor,” notes Brown when talking about the party’s stance on queer equality, “that every human being has God-given rights, but not because of how they live or what their sexual inclinations are. People do not lose those rights because of lifestyle choices they make, nor do they earn special favor in society by those choices. For the good of society in general, the public behavior of people has limits, and parents definitely have the right to shield their children from those who would direct them into different lifestyles.”
“Having said the above,” he continues, “I would be remiss if I failed to point out that people are accountable to God for how they choose and what they do. I believe I speak for most (if not all) members of our party when I say that we do not believe that God’s favor will be focused on our nation if people ignore what He clearly says about certain behaviors including, but not limited to, sexual misconduct.”
THE PROGRESSIVE PARTY
“Myself, I see gay and lesbian issues as being wrapped up in the broader issues,” explains Dean Shelton, a member of the Progressive Party. “I see the issue of marriage equality being part of the broader issue of equal rights for all people. There are a lot of people in this country and this world that are denied basic human rights and privilege.”
Originally founded as the Oregon Peace Party in 2008, the Progressive Party takes a big-picture view of liberal politics that emphasizes similarities rather than differences.
“We recognize that people around the world all seek similar things: dignity, security, economic justice, human rights, and a healthy environment,” the party’s platform states. As a result, the party supports equal rights for gays, lesbians, and other LGBTQ citizens, including equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, as part of the intrinsic rights of all people.
Even as he supports the Progressive Party, Shelton, like many others, is sometimes concerned that third parties face an uphill battle in making their voices heard.
“Until we reform the way we elect candidates, I don’t know that any third party is going to make a difference,” Shelton says. “I’ve come to this conclusion recently in thinking of who I’m going to vote for in the presidential run this year.”
The Progressive Party is unique locally for endorsing Rocky Anderson, an openly gay presidential candidate running under the Justice Party.
“[Getting Anderson on the ballot] got me to thinking of why we have so many third-party candidates,” Shelton says. “It’s like the way that religion divides over ideology. I feel like the third parties do the same thing.”
Ultimately, for Shelton, the crux of breaking the two-party system’s hold on American politics comes down to active political leadership by citizens in their parties of choice.
“We’re really just in need of a strong choice for a third-party candidate,” he says, “if we want to truly rival the Republicans and Democrats.”
PQ by no means asserts that this article represents the full breadth and depth of parties or political ideologies active in the region. Join the discussion of the role of queer people in third party politics, along with ongoing electoral and political coverage from across the region in the comments section below, or send us a letter to the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).