Openly gay third-party presidential candidate on Obama, LGBT issues

Stephen Durham. Photo by Matthew C. Clark

Stephen Durham is an openly gay man running a national protest-vote campaign as a write-in candidate for president of the United States with the Freedom Socialist Party. His running mate for vice president is Christina Lopez. While in Chicago for the teacher’s union strike, Windy City Times sat down with Durham to discuss the campaign.

Windy City Times: Can you explain what this protest campaign is all about?

Stephen Durham: Well, first of all, it’s about the domination of the two parties in the electoral arena. I don’t know if you are aware it takes 700,000 signatures and over $10,000 to qualify as a third party in all 50 states, and no third party has been on the ballot in all 50 states.

So we decided—rather than using the resources we have in this campaign spending all our time trying to get on the ballot—to run a protest campaign against the rigged elections. Elections are rigged in this country.

We also wanted to appeal to the disillusionment that people have with the two-party system, given the record—Obama’s record; a lot of hopes have been dashed with Obama’s record. Also, with the Occupy movement, we wanted to provide an alternative for people to participate in the election by writing in our names. And the campaign slogan is “Vote for the greater good instead of the lesser evil.”

WCT: The Freedom Socialist Party is a political party that most of our readers aren’t familiar with. What kinds of politics and policies do you all stand for?

Stephen Durham: We’re a socialist-feminist party and, as a gay candidate and man, I was attracted to socialism and feminism together: sexual equality; equality between men and women; fighting for minority rights, including lesbian and gay and people of color. It was founded in 1966 in Seattle; we’re now in five cities.

I’m the organizer in New York City. It’s a party that actually believes in fundamental social change, which means that we change class relations to put the working class in power, and we’re revolutionary in that sense.

WCT: You mentioned that you’re an openly gay candidate. To my knowledge, you’re [currently] the only openly gay candidate for president. Do you see any significance to that?

Stephen Durham: A huge significance. I know what discrimination is about. And I’ve not just been an openly gay man; I’ve been a gay man who’s a trade unionist in the ’80s and the ’90s. In the ’70s, I was an openly gay anti-war activist. Before Stonewall, I was a student activist around ethnic studies, called Third World Studies, which is now under attack.

Also, as a gay candidate, I saw the gay movement get funneled in the Democratic Party, where gay liberation became a single issue. Now the movement has been channeled into the rights to marriage. They don’t talk about the economic needs for gays. They don’t talk about homelessness for gays. The establishment gay movement is totally tied to the Democratic Party. And I saw that happen.

The first time I encountered it as a phenomenon was when David Goodstein bought The Advocate. And David Goodstein is a Democrat and it became all kind of single-issue. I support gay marriage because the rights that come with marriage should belong to everybody, but I’m critical of the movement, that it becomes the only thing people talk about.

WCT: Obama and the Democrats have advanced many LGBT issues. If it seems like LGBT people have, for the first time, an institutionalized way to be recognized within a mainstream party, why should they vote for a third-party candidate?

Stephen Durham: Because it only addresses one issue. I’m critical of Obama. All that legislation that was passed, I support that as a forum. But I can’t support a president that then murders people and has a kill list, or that has kept Guantanamo open.

My campaign is about a multi-issue; it’s about the facets of everybody’s personality. And I’m extremely critical of Obama with his statement of supporting gay marriage, but deferring to state’s rights on the issue. It’s playing with an issue that’s a life-or-death issue for gays and lesbians, in terms of homophobia. He’s not willing to confront the conservative agenda.

As you look at the Democratic National Convention, they talk about gays, but they don’t talk about economic rights; they beat up teachers. The [DNC] can really be summed up by Biden when he said that Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. There’s a real bloodlust that is very dangerous. I understand a lot of people will give their votes to Obama on a single issue but they’re making a mistake because everybody’s multi-faceted.

WCT: You’ve been in Chicago for the past few days now. Was this a planned trip?

Stephen Durham: It was a planned trip because I was on the West Coast; the teachers went on strike, and I came to support them. I’m a labor activist. I was in the Hotel and Restaurant Worker’s Union for 20 years in a service job. So yesterday I was here. I went to strike headquarters. I passed out campaign literature among strikers. I volunteered.

Yesterday, I feel like I really experienced a city of solidarity. And this is what is so important about strikes. It gives people a way to fight back and to try to maintain what has already been gained.

WCT: What do you think are the biggest issues facing LGBT people right now?

Stephen Durham: We have gotten a certain degree of acceptance; [LGBT people are] more accepted in society. [However,] there’s also a real polarization going on. You’ve got a marching right wing. Gay youth still have a hard time, in school and also in housing and they end up in urban centers. Those are issues.

I think also funding for AIDS [is a major issue]. Fifteen million people around the world have AIDS and only 5 million receive drugs. That’s a whole other issue, and that’s a gay issue but it’s also a person of color issue [and] a feminist issue, because the largest group of people that are contracting AIDS today are women of color. Everything’s a gay issue because we are everywhere.

Originally posted in the online edition of Windy City Times.
September 18, 2012
By Matthew C. Clark