Gay politicians discuss careers at Out Crowd event

Three openly gay local politicians discussed how their sexual orientation has affected their political careers in a panel discussion on campus Tuesday.

The forum, called “Legislating Out Loud,” was held in the Marvin Center and sponsored by The Out Crowd, GW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student organization, as part of its celebration of gay pride week.

D.C. City Councilmember Jim Graham, one of the panelists, talked about how in the beginning of his career he was skeptical about letting his employers know about his sexual orientation.

“Even though I was working for a liberal senator (in the 1970s), I was absolutely convinced in my mind that if he knew that I was a gay man, I would just be fired,” he said. “And by the way, that wasn’t all that preposterous.”

Graham said he has been through “the major stages of being a gay man.” He said during the 1960s and through his college years, he was unconscious of his sexual orientation. He added that he was in denial of his homosexuality and married a woman after college whom he later divorced.

“I think I’ve gone in my life from unconscious to the point today where Jim Graham being gay is just another facet of who I am,” he said. “It’s no longer something that is either hidden or denied or for that matter billboarded.”

D.C. Council member David Catania, who left the Republican Party because he did not agree with its stance on homosexual marriage, also attended the event.

Although the event was co-sponsored by the College Democrats, representatives from The Out Crowd said that they made a point to include all political perspectives. Chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee Bob Kabel offered his experiences from a Republican perspective at the forum and said being a gay Republican gives him an advantage in D.C.

Conservatives within the Republican Party have opposed same-sex marriage laws in states across the country, and the Bush administration has tried to counter such measures through legislation last year.

“For the record, I have been treated extremely well by the Republican party,” Kabel said. “Being in D.C., I think, it was a benefit to be an openly gay person. It set me a little apart from my competition.”

Maryland state delegate Anne Kaiser, who announced she was gay this year, said she does not think there are too many challenges associated with being a gay elected official. She said all of her political experiences since she made the announcement have been positive.

Kaiser, a Democrat who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2003, was not public about her sexual orientation during the election. When she was working on the Medical Decision Making Act, a bill advocating the medical rights of gay partners, she decided it was time to tell the public.

Kaiser said the reaction to her testimony was mostly positive by her nearly 1,700 constituents. She believes that being gay will not be an issue in her re-election campaign next year, and her orientation may have gained her more support.

“Maybe a few more people are willing to help me out because they think I have guts now – a rare thing they say in politicians,” she said.

Members of The Out Crowd said that although gays still face certain stereotypes, especially on college campuses, GW generally provides a safe haven for sexual expression.

The Out Crowd held events each day this week to celebrate gay pride.

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