Lesbian Notions by Libby Post
Gay money, real politics
by Libby Post - SGN Contributing Writer

Given the tenor of our times, I would have never thought that reading The Wall Street Journal would lead to one of the more inventive LGBT political donor sites on the Web today.

But that's what happened when South Beach-based Juan Ahonen-Jover, Ph.D., read a story about LGBT philanthropist Tim Gill, the Gill Foundation, and the organization's OutGiving conferences that were designed to help LGBT donors make informed decisions about their philanthropy and political contributions.

"We went to the conference," said Juan's partner, Ken Ahonen-Jover, M.D., "and met Andy Tobias [the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee]. He convinced us to support [Al] Gore for president and to help Howard Dean get re-elected as governor of Vermont. We helped Dean, and the next thing we knew, he was running for president. We got the political bug."

Well, that "bug" has since turned into a full-time job for Juan, and a part-time one for Ken. They are the founders and driving financial force behind equalitygiving.com.

"We came up with the idea for the website three years ago," explained Juan in a recent phone interview. "We thought it was important to provide a way for donors to be in touch. People became very engaged."

"Forming the site came from our experience at OutGiving," said Ken. "There we learned the importance of strategic giving. We're a product of that education."

Since the site went up in 2005, Ken and Juan have worked to enhance it and make it a resource for donors, organizations, and candidates. But just as important, it is a safe space for donors to converse in a confidential forum, ask questions they might not be comfortable asking in a public meeting, and learn from one another.

"You really get to know what people are thinking," said Juan. "I always learn and refine my own opinion after the listserv discussions." Making an informed decision about who to support in today's political environment isn't always easy. Equalitygiving.com gives its readers a snapshot of where a candidate stands based on the site's equality goals. In order for a candidate to be endorsed, he or she must support:

1. Federal hate-crimes protection
2. Protection from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodation
3. Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and support for lifting the ban on Gays in the military
4. Marriage equality
5. Freedom of gender
6. Protecting LGBT youth
7. Same-sex parenting rights

A candidate only gets endorsed if he or she supports all seven goals. That being the case, both Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are listed as "heartbreakers." They support all the goals except marriage equality.

"Marriage is the one we tend to focus on because that's the one that really divides people," said Ken. "Clinton and Obama support Gay rights, and they want Gay people to vote for them, but we want to make a clear distinction between those candidates that support full equality, and those who don't understand the importance of supporting full equality. What we're doing will hopefully push other candidates to come out in support of full equality."

Their strategy, while seemingly lost on the Democratic presidential candidates, does seem to be working on other office-seekers. Equalitygiving.com has endorsed, among others: openly Gay Jim Neal, who is running for U.S. Senate against Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina; Betsy Markey, who is running against Colorado Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, the author of the federal Marriage Protection Amendment; and John Kroger, who is running for state attorney general in Oregon. It's refreshing to see that these candidates have the courage of their convictions and are willing to stand up for us all the way.

But I'm no Pollyanna - I know it would be impossible for either of the "Heartbreak Kids" to come out for our right to marry and get elected president. Equalitygiving.com makes it quite clear, however, that John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, can't even be considered a friend. I recently received an e-mail from the site entitled "Senator McCain's Position on Equality." A simple click, and you see that McCain has received an anti-equality rating. He's against goals 1 through 4, including federal protections for couples, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, and has never uttered a word about goals 5 through 7.

Ken and Juan can't yet quantify the impact their site has had on our community, although they told me when they posted information about state organizations that were fighting marriage amendments, those organizations received money from equalitygiving.com donors. It's safe to say that the major impact of the site is that it gives us the opportunity to put our money where our mouths are.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.