Don't Label Eddie As Bigot

From Keen Campaigning

BY CHRISTINE HAWES AND ANDRE TORKELSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUL 11, 2015

We at Keen Campaigning have found ourselves in a tortuous position since our former client Shelli Freeland Eddie issued her on-the-record spiritual rejection of the LGBT community June 30.

We have our own decades-old connections to the LGBT community and are strong allies for equality. Commissioner Eddie couldn’t have been more “off” in her email to Equality Florida. She was simultaneously naïve and “judgy” about same-sex marriage days after a historic Supreme Court ruling, plum in the glorious afterglow of Pride season and a day after the Stonewall Riots anniversary. Ouch.

But sadly, the LGBT community’s response one-upped Eddie. “Liar,” “bigot” and “scumbag” are some of the terms tossed at Shelli. The LGBT community has now positioned itself as the abused-turned-abuser.

Political watchers know: Keen Campaigning does not hesitate to publicly “break” from liars. We did so four months ago, breaking with a candidate/client who severely exaggerates his employment history on sworn statements.

The difference here, Shelli always has been honest about her personal spiritual views when asked. Contrary to how some sensationally describe this situation, Eddie never lied. Yes, she “repented”—a “faith” term referring to taking responsibility for a so-called sin, and a term she should have reserved for her “faith” community only. But as she also said recently, Eddie now realizes she should have included a paragraph on her Equality Florida survey noting that as a Christian, she did not believe homosexuality or same-sex marriage was sanctioned by God.

Another clarification: no one ever publicly asked Eddie directly about her spiritual views. Those who felt the need to know indeed discussed them with her privately. Key Democratic Party leaders knew of her views—since January at least—and decided they were “comfortable” with them. That understanding was part of our decision to become Shelli’s lead consultants during her historic victory.

We’re not excusing Shelli’s narrow-mindedness. None of us who knew her personal views expected this heretofore strong, capable, intelligent woman to collapse, through this email, into religion-driven “repentance.”

But she is NOT a liar, bigot or scumbag, and should NOT be pressured to resign.

Those promoting this line of attack ignore an essential hallmark of healthy LGBT communities: respecting individual differences. Our community always works to carve out space for subtle differences; that’s why “homosexual” evolved into “gay,” which evolved into “gay and lesbian,” which evolved into “LGBT,” which is now evolving into “LGBTQAA,” and so on. We should recognize and respect subtle differences here, and handle word a public official shares traditional (and narrow-minded) religious beliefs while she commits to upholding equal rights for all with all her might.

If Shelli does not live up to this promise, we will be the first to call her out. We’ll watch to see if she truly learned she was elected to be a public servant, not a minister or evangelical witness. And we’ll continue to hope she more fully explores legitimate differences of opinion about what the Bible says about homosexuality. Here’s the reality: just because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of government recognition of same-sex marriage, religious fundamentalists like Eddie won’t wake up suddenly and feel just fine with that. We’re kidding ourselves if we think other elected officials don’t feel the same, personally and religiously, as Eddie does; they just haven’t been naive enough to get in this quagmire.

Peaceful, respectful co-existence remains the utterly challenging end goal. Hard as it is, resist the urge to lash out. Approach people with sympathy, care and an open mind. Show we can be more fair and balanced than same-sex marriage opponents ever were.

Set a new standard, starting with Shelli Freeland Eddie. 

Christine Hawes and Andre Torkeson co-founderd Keen Campaigning

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