Gay Politics and Conservatism

This summer, I interviewed congressional candidate Anthony Woods, whose bid to fill Elaine Tauscher’s congressional seat in Fairfield, CA fell well short, receiving 8% of the vote in an open primary. Woods had among the more interesting biographies of any congressional candidates in the off year election cycle, running at the age of 28, having served two tours of duty in Iraq after graduating from West Point, then attending the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and being honorably discharged for violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as an openly gay man.

When I spoke with him, Woods was unquestionably progressive on the issues: he was in favor of universal healthcare, said he would consider legalizing marijuana, and he criticized the Iraq War as a war of choice, he was against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. His positions were fairly typical of a Democratic candidate in a safely Democratic district. What interested me, was that when I asked him about whether it would mean anything to be the first black, openly gay congressman and the first violator of the DADT policy, he demurred:

To be honest, no, not really. Not really.

Nor did he list anything to do with gay politics as a primary issue for him (citing universal healthcare, the economy, and veterans’ issues as his top three priorities). Though Woods lost, his candidacy seemed to be an early part of a bigger trend. Woods was a gay candidate who if anything deemphasized his homosexuality. Woods’ candidacy, though unsuccessful, is going to be the blueprint for gay candidates seeking office. Rather than emphasizing one’s orientation as an important part of their personal identity and “the gay candidate”, a focus on the issues is the way for gay candidates to win public office.

As of yesterday, Houston (the one in Texas) is the largest city to have elected an openly gay mayor. Houston, Texas! Perhaps unsurprisingly, in these times, they elected Annise Parker, the city controller whose financial credentials seem to have made the difference in this race. As to what role her orientation played, the Houston Chronicle’s story on the election had this telling sentence:

While some voters acknowledged it was a matter of concern, many saw no problem voting for a gay candidate, especially given Parker’s assurances that she did not intend to expand gay rights through her position as mayor.

The question remains though, when will conservatives become comfortable with a gay candidate? So far there hasn’t been one, but perhaps winning a mayoral race in Texas is a sign that it’s becoming more and more possible.

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