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Op-ed: Wanted: LGBT Candidates, Regardless of Party

By Chuck Wolfe

Harvey Milk told LGBT people to come out because it would help our families, friends, and coworkers understand us, and that would make it harder for them to oppose our legal equality. That’s one reason the Democratic Party has come to embrace the fight for LGBT equality. Growing numbers of openly LGBT operatives, candidates, and elected officials pushed the party to change, even while Democratic leaders were signing laws like the Defense of Marriage Act and telling gay and lesbian troops to keep quiet about their sexual orientation. The Democratic Party eventually changed, but the journey to this moment was painful for LGBT activists — people like my hero, David Mixner, who for many years fought for a party that would not fight for him.  

LGBT Republicans today find themselves in a similar struggle, and while the green shoots of progress they’re seeing are encouraging, there is a long, long way to go. I suspect there are many reasons the GOP still officially opposes laws banning LGBT discrimination — political cowardice, religion-based bigotry, inertia — but among them is the simple fact that there are still very few LGBT elected officials and candidates in the party. Just a handful of out Republicans are currently serving in elected office in the U.S., and in Congress there are none. That must change if the GOP is ever going to truly evolve on equality issues.

This year at least three gay Republicans are seeking seats in Congress, and the Victory Fund has endorsed two of them along with seven Democratic congressional candidates and hundreds more from both parties at the state and local level. As a nonpartisan organization with a clear mission to increase the number of LGBT voices in government, we strongly believe out lawmakers are vital on both sides of the aisle. The need is especially great now for at least one openly gay Republican inside the GOP caucus in Congress — someone who can speak authentically on behalf of all of us, including the 25 to 30 percent of LGBT Americans who consistently vote Republican in presidential elections.

Richard Tisei, a married, openly gay Republican running for Congress in Massachusetts, is exactly the type of leader whose voice is desperately needed in the House. Richard is a respected, experienced champion for equality who garnered high praise from LGBT activists when he served in the state senate. In his last race for Congress in 2012, Richard earned the endorsement of every single major newspaper in his district, and he came extremely close to beating a Democratic incumbent who was battling an ethics scandal. He easily qualified for Victory’s endorsement then, and we are proud to stand with him again this year.

Being a nonpartisan player in politics is rare, but Victory is engaged in a longer-term mission to change politics permanently, and that requires a broad-based effort in both major parties. Washington partisans may be obsessed with short-term political gains and losses on a seat-by-seat basis, but most people just want government to work for them again. They want practical, principled leaders like Richard Tisei who will serve openly and honestly, no matter how uncomfortable that makes Speaker Boehner.

Then again, that’s sort of the point. While more than 90 percent of our endorsed candidates are Democrats, an increasing number of LGBT Republicans like Richard are willing to stand up to their party leaders and seek a place at the table. We encourage these voices and support their campaigns because like most Americans, we want the GOP to change on this issue, just as the Democratic Party has. This mission to expand the political playing field for LGBT Americans regardless of political affiliation won’t always make Victory popular with political partisans, but it is the right thing to do.  

CHUCK WOLFE is the president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

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