How Sinema became a dangerous force in American politics
A shapeshifter who poses a threat to civil rights, she must be condemned by LGBTQ rights groups -- not supported.
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Kyrsten Sinema, currently the Arizona Democratic senator who is blocking a vote to pass voting rights legislation and save American democracy, came out as bisexual on the floor of the Arizona legislature in 2005, when she was an Arizona Democratic House member.
It was a time of intensive battles over LGBTQ rights and marriage amendments — and it immediately gained Sinema national recognition and support, as well as endorsements and money from state and national LGBTQ rights group.
Looking back now, it’s hard to know whether this was another public pose she was striking for her own ambitions, or a genuine moment in which someone announces their authentic self, or perhaps both. Whatever the case, Sinema hasn’t talked much if at all about coming out or even being bisexual since, including about how liberating it was to come out nor how rewarding it is to be a leader for young LGBTQ people, as just about every other prominent LGBTQ person who comes out has done.
To the contrary, she bizarrely told me that she couldn’t “remember” her coming out when I interviewed her seven years after she announced she was bisexual, in 2012 on my SiriusXM program, when she was striking a decidedly different political pose.
In 2005, the former Green Party member’s political brand in the Democratic Party in the Arizona House was that of a progressive flamethrower fighting for civil rights. When she came out it was a crystalizing moment for that political brand, as I wrote last year:
A colleague on the floor of the state legislature in 2005 made an insulting remark against LGBTQ people, to which Sinema replied, “'We're simply people like everyone else who want and deserve respect.” Later, reporters asked her to whom she was referring and she replied, “Duh, I’m bisexual,” making news in the Arizona media and across the country.
She became an icon to LGBTQ activists and groups, raising money and building on the momentum, fighting on behalf of immigrants and civil rights for all.
But seven years later she was running for a U.S. House seat in a very purple district, orchestrating a very cautious campaign. She’d prepared for that race for the previous few years while in the state legislature by disavowing her firebrand label and tactics, and working with Republicans, compromising.
The polls were very tight, so Sinema was being very careful. Still, it was shocking that she suddenly couldn’t remember her own coming out — a seminal moment for any LGBTQ person. I described what happened in that piece last year:
“I gotta be honest, I’m not sure I remember it,” Sinema actually responded when I asked her about that moment [in 2005] — yes, about her very public coming out — in our 2012 interview. “You know, in the early days of the legislature there were a lot of disparaging remarks about the LGBT community, and other communities.”
I was dumbfounded by that, as well as by the fact that she refused to discuss how ground-breaking it would be to have an openly bisexual U.S. House member, shifting the discussion continually — though she was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which is all about promoting candidates who are out and proud to talk about it.
Since I’m a gay talk show host with a large national LGBTQ listenership, I knew listeners would be excited to hear about her candidacy and would want to help her get elected if she addressed the issue thoughtfully. But as the discussion went nowhere, I ended the interview.
I not only had recited to her what happened on the floor of the Arizona House in 2005 before asking her about it — thus giving her enough information to refresh her memory — but I read details of it after she said she didn’t remember it, and she still feigned memory loss about it. (You can listen to that clip here.)
This was perhaps the first warning sign that Sinema’s ambitions were exceedingly dangerous, that she was willing to go much further than other politicians who feel they need to sometimes play down past actions. She was ready to jettison it all, and, in a methodical, robotic fashion, morph into something else with ease.
That’s what we’ve seen since then, as Sinema re-branded herself as a conservative Democrat in the House, and now as a GOP-friendly obstructionist Democrat in the Senate, willing to harm LGBTQ equality, which can’t be advanced with the filibuster in place. And the same goes for immigrant rights, a woman’s right to choose and, as we’ve been focused on this week, voting rights — all issues she claimed in the past to champion. Sinema still says she supports those issues, but her declarations are completely empty, as she tries to use her opposition to filibuster reform as something high-minded — using it as cover — distorting the history of the filibuster itself.
That Sinema called the late great John Lewis a “hero” while she won’t let the voting rights bill named after the civil rights leader be voted into law is a slap in the face to millions of African-Americans. Sinema has been courting billionaire donors and attending fundraisers, taking money from pharmaceutical companies and just checking out entirely, while the rest of the party is working hard to save this nation from authoritarianism as Donald Trump promotes the Big Lie and Republicans are passing laws to rig elections.
The shapeshifting has been astounding, and it’s often visible in Sinema’s presentation, as she’s used symbolism and fashion choice to send signals throughout much of her political career. It wasn’t lost on many of us that Sinema famously refused to be sworn in on a bible because she’d said she has no religious affiliation — a throwback to a pose during her Green Party days — but in her speech this week in which she defended the filibuster against a carveout for voting rights, posing as Republican-ish and winning accolades from GOP senators, she was wearing a gold crucifix.
Acyn @AcynSinema: I share the disappointment..that we’ve not found more support on the other side of the aisle for responses to state level voting restrictions.. I wish that were not the case just as I wish there had been a more serious effort on the part of Democratic leaders… https://t.co/UtTExVddDO
There’s been much speculation and discussion about Sinema’s ambitions. This week lesbian activist and author Amy Siskind relayed what she was told by a source close to Sinema — that Sinema actually has designs on becoming president. As delusional as this is, it matches the fantasy world Sinema lives in, in which she believes she’s smarter than everyone and has so many around her giving her accolades and bundles of cash. And it certainly betrays a comical strategy to the shapeshifting. That underscores even more why this narcissistic politician is a danger.
Those LGBTQ rights groups, like the Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund, that endorsed Sinema in all of her elections since she came out, must take back their endorsements and condemn her as a threat to LGBTQ equality and civil rights for all. One of Sinema’s former House staffers, JoDee Winterhof, is a senior vice president at HRC. She needs to come out full force and disavow Sinema.
It’s not enough for the Victory Fund, whose sole goal is to help elect LGBTQ people to public office with endorsements and money, to refrain from endorsing Sinema again. By endorsing her in the past they helped to build her up and put her in the place she is now. They need to condemn her now as a force working against the rights of all LGBTQ people, and express regret for their previous endorsements.
That likely won’t sway Sinema, but it will send a strong message. As President Biden said, history will remember which side people were on in this battle. And LGBTQ groups, like all Americans, need to underscore that they were on the side of justice and democracy.