A cardboard cutout of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (C) is seen traveling along Market Street during the annual Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco.
Photo by Josh Edelson/Getty

Hillary Clinton’s complex relationship with her LGBT base

Updated

Many presidential candidates get campy songs made for them by supporters. But few candidates invite their musical super fans to introduce them at high-dollar fundraisers — especially when the supporters’ band name happens to be a play on a euphemism for well-endowed men.

And yet on Thursday, when Hillary Clinton is set to meet with donors in the gay-friendly resort town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, she will be introduced by a live performance of “Chelsea’s Mom” from the band Well Strung.

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The gay string quartet’s tribute to “sexy and strong” Clinton — set to the tune of the 2003 hit “Stacy’s Mom” — was made without any input form the campaign. But it earned a tweet from Clinton’s account and a few days ago, the band was invited to open for Clinton in Provincetown, where they have a loyal fan base.

It’s just the latest example of Clinton making an extra effort to tap into an unusually deep well of support in the LGBT community for her second presidential campaign.  

Despite a less than perfect record on gay rights, Clinton has long been popular among many in the LBGT community, and for reasons that go beyond politics. And this year, she’s proudly embracing that popularity in a bigger way than at any time in her career.

“We kind of grew up with the Clintons. She’s not just this far away political figure, being a mother and caring for the nation in that way,” said Well Strung violinist Chris Marchant. 

It’s a well-acknowledged stereotype that gay men admire strong women but that doesn’t prevent it from also being true for many.

“She is a cultural icon in a way that a number of other women known by only one name are,” said Seth Bringman, who is gay and worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign and served as communications director for the Ready for Hillary super PAC. “Hillary is the Madonna or the Cher to a younger generation of gay guys across the country. They see a part of themselves in her.”

At Clinton campaign events across the country, some of her most reliably enthusiastic supporters are middle-aged women or members of the LGBT community. And the same is true on online, where a small army of pro-Clinton Twitter-vigilantes tends to skew gay. 

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One such supporter known to many journalists who cover Clinton is Daniel Aubry, a 20-something baker from New York City who likes to make pro-Clinton cupcakes and other baked goods in his spare time. “I think that a lot of gays can associate with someone who’s been knocked down and who has been treated unfairly,” said Aubry.

And it was two gay guys who came up with the idea for “Texts for Hillary” over drinks at a sports bar in D.C.

In the lead up to 2016, Clinton is much more aggressively aligning herself with the LGBT community. It’s smart politics at a time when as many one in five big-time Democratic donors are gay or lesbian or active in advancing LGBT causes.

There were not one but two same-sex couples in her announcement video. Last week, she headlined a fundraiser with Lady Gaga, another icon of gay culture. Her website sells a whole line of apparel geared specifically for LGBT Pride month. And her lines about gay rights are often the best received at her events.

In Provincetown, state Rep. Sarah Peake, who previously served on the town’s Board of Selectmen, said Clinton will be “welcomed with open arms.” “There’s quite a bit of buzz about this around town,” she said, noting two people had stopped her on the way to the post office that morning to ask about Clinton’s visit.

“She is much more visibly embracing the LGBT community,” said Peake, who served on Clinton’s LGBT Americans for Hillary Steering Committee in 2008. “She sees the LGBT community as her base.”

Clinton didn’t support marriage equality until after President Barack Obama did, and she raised some eyebrows during a contentious interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on her evolution on the issue.

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Meanwhile, Democratic primary rivals can point to victories on LGBT rights in their records.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took a political risk to push marriage equality through his state’s legislature, while Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of just 67 members of Congress to vote against DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act.

Clinton seems to transcend politics for many in the LGBT community — but not all.

Huffington Post Gay Voices editor and radio host Mike Signorile is exasperated by gay Clinton fans he sees as being “seduced by a superficial message.”

“She is being very vague still as to what she is going to do as president, except for these platitudes of showing gay couples in videos and supporting marriage after everybody else did,” he said.

Signorile wants Clinton to endorse a comprehensive LGBT anti-discrimination bill, like the one sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley.

“And I don’t think there’s anything … except for her speech to the U.N. General Assembly in Geneva, that she can point to as a real leader on LGBT issues,” he said.

When a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign told The New York Times’ Amy Chozick last year that “we get her like we get our mom,” it sparked a minor backlash.

Paul Schindler, the editor and founder of New York City-base Gay City News, called the comment “cringe-worthy.” “If Hillary Clinton is our next president, it won’t be important if she has suffered as we have or if she reminds us of our mom or some other family member,” he wrote.

Nonetheless, at the moment at least, Clinton seems in little danger of losing too much LGBT support to a Democratic rival, let alone a Republican.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton's complex relationship with her LGBT base

Updated