Local and national politicians discussed the benefits and difficulties of being gay and in politics Monday night in the Marvin Center. Thirty students attended the event sponsored by The Out Crowd, a campus lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization.
“You don’t campaign gay,” said Jay Fisette, a member of the Arlington County Board. “Only about one percent of my job is about being gay.”
Fisette said being gay is not a problem in his office but can often be an asset, noting gays have a lot of passion that is missing in U.S. campaigns and can often be an untapped resource for funding.
Sophomore Graham Murphy, TOC co-founder and executive director, said the aim of the panel was to show how easy it is to be “out” in politics.
In addition to Fisette, the panel featured Mike Mings, manager of the Human Rights Campaign’s political action committee, and John Michael Gonzalez, the chief of staff for Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), among other political activists.
The hour-long panel, in question-and-answer format, addressed a variety of issues, including the probability of gay candidates being elected, coming out in the political world and future rights issues. Panelists discussed the way in which gays are perceived in the political arena as well as issues like education, employment discrimination, HIV/AIDS and gays in the military.
Panelists agreed being gay is not an obstacle to becoming a successful politician, stressing the fact that honesty is very important in running a campaign when the candidate is gay.
“If you are very open about (being gay), your opponent can’t use it against you,” Gonzalez said.
The panel concluded with news about Youth College, an all-expense-paid program through the Human Rights Commission allowing students ages 18 to 24 to come to D.C. for an intensive week of hands-on training on how to run a winning campaign.
After the training, participants spend two and a half months in regular staff positions in targeted political campaigns around the country. Sophomore Luis Padilla, who had participated in the program this past election cycle, said the experience was the quickest, most effective and enduring training he has received.
“I learned a lot and made great friends,” Padilla said. “I think it helped me build character.”
Students who attended the panel said it was interesting and refreshing to see politicians who are openly gay.
“It’s about time people faced (homosexuality),” freshman Dan Bozzuto said.
TOC was established last year to provide positive resources for the “out” students at GW.
“The goal of the organization is support and education,” Murphy said.
The panel comes at a particularly appropriate time for Murphy, who would like to enter GW’s political arena this year, running for Student Association president this month.
“I think there’s more of a stigma to be gay in this age,” Murphy said. “On the other hand, we are a pretty liberal school. People shouldn’t vote for me because of that and they shouldn’t not vote for me because of that.”
The TOC organizes two dances a year and several panels throughout the semester. The next panel is scheduled to address gays and religion.