In light of CA State Senator Roy Ashburn’s decision today to come out of the closet after his DUI and the reporting that he had been seen leaving a gay bar, I was asked via email by a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor to offer my input on the difficulty for openly gay Republicans in contemporary politics. More specifically, are Americans beyond the point where a politician’s sexual orientation would keep them from winning an election, or are American more likely today to see past that?
Unfortunately, due to my commitments as a member of the Board of Directors for Capital Pride, I was unable to offer my thoughts in a timely manner before his deadline. I thought I would write them down in any case. Below is my response.
It would depend on the particular constituency and the record of the politician. For example, the city of Houston, Texas recently elected Annise Parker, a lesbian as mayor because of her credentials, not because of her sexuality. Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe came out back in 1996 and was reelected to Congress five times.
That being said, I still feel there are more challenges running for the Republican nominee as an out gay man or lesbian. But we are seeing a few more gay candidates running as Republicans each year.
For instance, there is a Congressional candidate running in Virginia against Rep. Jim Moran (VA-08) – Matthew Berry. He has a contested primary, but is the odds on favorite to make it to the general because he flatly stated that he was gay and moved on. He’s a not a gay candidate, but a candidate who happens to be gay. And he’s good on the issues that Republican voters care about — taxes, education, national security, fiscal responsibility.
When you let your gayness define you, that is when people – the voters lose interest.