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I hear moderate Democrats every day saying, “I pledge to support whoever the Democratic nominee is in 2020, even if he or she isn’t my first choice. Do YOU pledge the same?”

moderate dems

The tone feels more confrontational than friendly and encouraging. But tone aside, moderates think they’re asking progressives to make the identical pledge they are. In reality, they’re asking for something completely different.

If a moderate wins the election, moderate voters get exactly what they want. If a progressive wins, they get everything they want and more. So why shouldn’t they support whoever the nominee is?

However, the situation for progressives is quite different. If a moderate wins, we don’t get what we want. This lopsided challenge from moderates has long bothered me, but it was only just today that I realized why.

As a gay Mormon coming out in the 1980’s, I found it infuriating when Church leaders said, “We’re only asking you to obey the same rules we do. If heterosexuals can’t have sex outside of marriage, it’s not oppression to demand the same of you.”

But it was oppressive. Heterosexuals could get married. Gays couldn’t. So if two men or two women loved each other and wanted to share their lives together, there was no avenue for such a commitment. Church leaders said, “There are many sweet sisters who never find a husband and who must therefore control their sexual desires. If they can accept celibacy for their entire lives, so can you.”

But accepting celibacy when no one wants to have sex with you isn’t actually a choice, unless you’re going to hire an escort. However, two gay men or two lesbians who want to have consensual sex aren’t in the same situation, are they? They have found a willing sex partner but are still required to act as if they hadn’t.

Moderates, pledge what you will. Choose the nominee you want. But don’t think that you can make such a personal, life-altering choice for the rest of us.

The thing is, every gay person I know understands the injustice of this double standard, but many heterosexuals, even “allies,” often don’t get it. Likewise, I expect most moderate Democrats will hear this and say, “But this isn’t the same thing at all. Having a life partner isn’t like voting for a political candidate.”

No analogy is perfect in every detail. But the essentials are there. A moderate pledging to vote for a progressive candidate is NOT the same as a progressive pledging to vote for a centrist. There are certainly LGBTQ folk who commit to celibacy, who attempt reparative therapy, who join ex-gay programs. But most LGBTQ people aren’t willing to deny themselves a full life just because it makes some close-minded heterosexuals more comfortable.

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I voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 caucus. And I voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election.

I was a virgin until I was 26. But I chose not to remain a virgin indefinitely. I wasn’t willing to confine the rest of my life to celibacy.

Compromise is the name of the game in politics. But what is the compromise between celibacy and a sexual relationship? Do couples who have sex once a week consider themselves 6/7 celibate?

Maybe in the end, progressives really do need to vote for the Democratic nominee. But it isn’t a given. And moderates are not going to convince progressives by using a false equivalency. We must be treated as equals, not as second-class Democrats. Moderates aren’t the masters and progressives aren’t the servants. Moderates aren’t socially acceptable heterosexuals and progressives aren’t fringe sexual minorities.

My life hasn’t been wonderful simply because I chose to live it as fully as I could. I’ve watched friends die of AIDS. I’ve lost friends to gay bashing. I lost my religious community, my family, people I thought were friends. I even lost a $200,000 inheritance when my partner died in the years before legal gay marriage, and his estranged sister was declared “next of kin.”

None of that made me wish even for a moment that I had done what I was told I “had to” and remained celibate.

So, moderates, pledge what you will. Choose the nominee you want. But don’t think that you can make such a personal, life-altering choice for the rest of us.

Progressives expect more than “tolerance” from the Democratic Party. We often don’t even get that. What we want—and demand—is to have an equal place at the table. When you order us to give up our own desires so we can fulfill yours, we’re quite aware what you really think about us.

If you want to make a pledge, I propose that you pledge to treat progressives as full human beings rather than as objects to be controlled. That’s a pledge we can actually get behind.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend