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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Importance of LGBT Candidates

By Steve Charing

The Maryland primary election on September 14 will be upon us in short order. Then the general election on November 2 will follow almost immediately. Right now, we are on the cusp of an anticipated flurry of activity from all those seeking office this year. The big one locally—the race for governor—will be heating up real soon, and all the other contests will elicit similar energy.

As successful candidates know all too well, it is better that they get the early jump, especially if they are challenging better-known incumbents for seats. Organization-building, fighting for scarce dollars, and campaigning for name recognition are essential.

That's what gay candidates Luke Clippinger and Mary Washington (pictured) of Baltimore have been doing. Both are vying for vacant seats in the Maryland House of Delegates—Clippinger in District 46 and Washington in District 43. We profiled these two attractive and well-qualified candidates two months ago in OUTloud immediately after they publicly announced their candidacies.

But their campaigns did not begin then. Both diligently had done the hard and necessary work to establish solid organizations, drawing good people into their campaigns and designing strategies to raise cash and establish message delivery mechanisms. They hit the ground running, and they have no intentions of stopping. Candidates for elected office must set the right tone by working hard. Voters see that and remember that at the polls. They want to be represented by hard workers who are competent and speak to their values and interests.

Both are proving just that. Clippinger has been knocking on doors in his district even several months before his announced candidacy to deliver his message. The campaign announced that a milestone of 10,000 knocked doors has been reached.

Washington is also out in and around the district vigorously meeting voters. She had run unsuccessfully 4 years prior, so name recognition may not be as crucial for her. Both have been using innovative methods to raise funds that are critical to any campaign. Mary Washington, for example, just held a fundraiser at Gertrude's Restaurant at the BMA that featured Mississippi hill-country bluesman Terry Harmonica Bean with his band The Cornlickers. This is something you don't ordinarily see at Baltimore campaign events.

These candidates did a great job working the Pride festival. The bonus of electing Luke Clippinger and Mary Washington to serve in Annapolis is that as gay individuals, they clearly see the issues facing the lgbt community from a first-hand perspective. They are not running as gay candidates, however; they are running as candidates who happen to be gay. That is the correct approach because both candidates know they cannot win solely by their sexual orientation. They must appeal to the broader electorate's interests and address the other myriad issues concerning the voters.

Nonetheless, Washington and Clippinger are committed to the need to end discrimination and promote equality. If elected, over time, they will establish working relationships with colleagues that should help advance our goals. This has been the case with Senator Rich Madaleno (Montgomery County) and the three out delegates—Heather Mizeur (Montgomery), Anne Kaiser (Montgomery) and Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore)—who have earned trust and respect from their colleagues to attract more support to key lgbt legislative initiatives.

Two other candidates, Dr. Dana Beyer a transgender activist from Montgomery County and Bonnie Cullison, a lesbian, also from Montgomery are seeking office. Both are challengers.

Adding to that roster of LGBT elected officials will only help advance equality.

Another benefit of electing LGBT candidates is that it motivates our community to become more involved. Baltimore has a reputation (as opposed to D.C.) of not being politically active or interested. Of course, there are exceptions, but overall politics—particularly at the local level—does not stoke or excite lgbt people here.

Organizations, such as the Stonewall Democrats of Central Maryland, Young Democrats of Maryland and Equality Maryland are making the effort to get people more involved.

And candidates, such as Luke Clippinger and Mary Washington are doing the same. They are taking advantage of the new technology that was not available in the 2006 election cycle. Using social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, they can raise awareness of their candidacy to a broad audience. In doing so, they contact friends who otherwise do not have an interest in politics, and it may draw them into the process.

And yes, we need to do just that.

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