The story of Democratic failure (the party not the process) is not a new one, but for practicality’s sake, the story of the Yellowstone County Democrats starts in 2016:
The Democratic party was engaged in a vitriolic primary battle. Both the Sanders and Clinton campaign planned events in town, one featuring Bernie Sanders, and another featuring President Bill Clinton. It’s the party’s place not to weigh the scales for a candidate. One might reasonably assume, then, that party representatives would give a single e-mail to advertise each event. This was not the case for the Yellowstone County Dems, whose advertising efforts heavily favored Bernie Sanders. This may be excused by the party as an oversight, but little happens in a vacuum and the disturbingly predictable pattern of preferential treatment for (especially cisgendered heterosexual) male politicians, lives, narratives, and ideas is a common one.
The Homophobic Embrace
On July 19th, 2017, the Yellowstone County Democrats featured outgoing mayor Tom Hanel and his wife, Robin Hanel at their breakfast club. Mayor Hanel had, during his tenure, been a consistently conservative voice, going so far as to cast the tie breaking vote against the nondiscrimination ordinance which would have protected LGBTQ* folks and others from certain degrees of violence and discrimination. While he should not have been given space to speak, he was welcomed with open arms. In an advertising e-mail, Tom Towe, the seminar chair wrote:
“We know Robin and Tom Hanel for their graceful presence at many fundraising/charitable events in Billings. Some of us have been present for City Council meetings. [sic]
In recent years from the contenscious [sic] Nondiscrimination Ordinance demonstrations, to those continuing discussions of “One Big Sky Development.” We just had an eye-opening presentation on that a few weeks ago from Keith Rupert. That was replete with testimony at our breakfast, for example, from Paula Schilke, after she watched the City Council on television debate the extension of the due diligence period, and from Chuck Tooley, as a former Mayor, comparing the progress of Billings with other Plains State cities (such as Boise and Sioux Falls).
The Hanel’s will discuss how they have managed their time as a celebrity couple: Mayor and First Lady in Billings. That will include the honor of their presiding over the ceremony that launched the USS Billings. Wikipedia informed me that (LCS-15) is a Freedom-class littoral combat ship of the United States Navy. I know what littoral means. I can only guess what it signifies in this context. Of how this honor for Billings came about, I am certain we could all benefit to know more.
For example, the Hanel’s were co-Chairs of the 2014 Relay for Life in Billings. That commitment requires a personal connection to cancer, one that came about through Robin’s mom. The YVW article (below) gave a sense of what a family faces that no one should have to go through alone. Treating Billings as family has epitomized the Hanel’s presence during Tom’s majoral [sic] tenure.”
He went on to gush about a photograph he shared:
“The adorable picture of the Hanel’s (right) went with an article by Julie Koerber on June 25th in the Yellowstone Valley Woman. That free magazine’s glossy productions still seem amazing.”
The pattern of cisgendered heterosexual men supporting other cisgendered heterosexual men continued, even if that meant explicitly ignoring Hanel’s actions that sewed hatred in the community.
The Special Election
The Montana Democrats threw their weight behind Rob Quist, a cisgendered, heterosexual, white man, in the last special election. Rob Quist would go on to rabidly support gun culture, make all manner of excuses for his financial irresponsibility, and more importantly, allow issues of social justice to take the back seat in a state in desperate need of leadership. Quist initially did not include non-discrimination against the LGBTQ community in his issues page, only later adding a short blurb that didn’t use the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bi,” “trans,” etc. This kind of erasure isn’t just unacceptable; coming from a leader it exacerbates existing issues of toxicity within the left.
The Yellowstone Country Democrats would go on to feature Bernie Sanders, fresh off of a tour where he endorsed an anti-choice candidate and supported Israel’s war crimes, at their Truman Dinner as part of a failed effort to support their own toxic candidate.
Until recently, the party has been chaired by another cisgenered, heterosexual, white man, Kelly McCarthy. While Kelly has given basic lip-service to marginalized groups, his actions indicate a clear condescension, intentional or otherwise. He was asked to speak at Big Sky Pride, an event he had no place at. Upon receiving an offer to speak, he should have realized that his speaking was taking space away from queer people and declined. Instead, he choose to take up that very valuable space. He would go on to explain privilege to an audience of queer folks – as if we didn’t know what that meant. The reality is that lip-service only goes so far. A willingness to actively protect the space and voices of the marginalized is what matters and as a leader, he was not able to do that.
The Yellowstone County Democratic Party’s goals and objectives are clear: they exist, knowingly or otherwise, to support the careers, narratives, and stories of cisgendered, heterosexual, white men and are willing to go so far in doing so that they erase others along the way. That behavior isn’t just shameful – it’s unacceptable.
When Kelly McCarthy stepped down as chair, the party had a moral responsibility to seek a non-male voice. More importantly, those with cishet male voices had a responsibility to step down and allow others the space to direct the narrative. Joe Splinter did not step down, he stepped up; in doing so he affirmed the narrative of the cishet male. The party, once again, drank the cool aid and provided him with the space.
Unfortunately the party continues to be lead by a backwards ideology that prioritizes the voices of the oppressors above the voices of the oppressed.