QUEER VOICES

Gay Teen Athlete Looking To Unseat Anti-Gay Ohio Legislator This Fall

Garrett Baldwin isn’t your average Democrat. And he wants to win big in Trump country.

This article originally appeared on Outsports

Garrett Baldwin might be just 18 years old, but he is aiming to take down an anti-gay Republican cornerstone of the Ohio House of Representatives.

The teenage high school athlete has been upset by actions and statements of Nino Vitale, the current representative of the 85th district, including his sponsorship of a bill designed to undermine marriage equality.

Now Baldwin is throwing his hat into the ring, running as a Democrat to unseat someone he says isn’t just homophobic, but is an entrenched member of a state government that needs change.

It won’t be easy. Not only is Baldwin a newcomer, but the district voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election. A Democrat hasn’t run against Vitale for years.

Baldwin told Outsports that the overwhelming support for President Trump in the area wasn’t about the “R” next to his name, but something else.

“Around here a lot of people that voted for Trump are fed up with the system,” Baldwin told Ousports. “We have an entrenched Republican representative, and that’s what people are fed up with.”

In addition to being a teenager, Baldwin being gay certainly sets him apart in the area.

“When they hear I’m a gay candidate I don’t get a lot of feedback on that because it’s not important. They want to know what I stand for and how I’m going to move the district in the direction way they want it to go.”

Baldwin said his sexual orientation was, in his town of about 1,500 people, a topic of conversation at first. But he came out at 14, and four years later it’s simply not a big deal.

“They know I’m gay and it’s just not a conversation we have anymore because people know who I am.”

Baldwin has been a cheerleader for several years, and this year was a part of his school’s new swimming team. Baldwin said he has wanted to join the military for years, and he felt the swimming would help him succeed there. He has already joined the Ohio National Guard.

LGBTQ issues will no doubt take center stage in the race. It’s one of the reasons Baldwin is running. His opponent, incumbent Republican Nino Vitale, 47, is rabidly anti-LGBTQ. He is also against abortion rights and a huge supporter of the NRA and owning guns.

Baldwin doesn’t shy away from the fact that about 70% of the district voted for Donald Trump. He says that wasn’t about party affiliation, but rather a distrust and dislike for the status quo. In 2016, he says, Hillary Clinton represented that status quo.

So it should be no surprise that Baldwin says he is not a Clinton-style Democrat. He’s anything but. At only 18 he’s (obviously) not a career politician. In his more conservative area, he’s also not on board with the national Democratic Party on some key issues.

On abortion rights, he sees the importance of safe and legal abortions, but also the need for limits to those rights that protect a fetus in the third, or maybe even the second, trimester. When it comes to the Second Amendment, he is not for banning what he calls “assault weapons.” These positions will play well in his more conservative area of Ohio.

On LGBTQ issues he will be a champion in the state assembly in a way his opponent could never be.

“Vitale believes strictly in one man and one woman having children, that that’s his idea of a family,” Bennett said. “We have multiple LGBT families in the district, and it’s scary that we have a representative furthering those ideas in the statehouse.”

Vitale is the author of House Bill 36, dubbed the Ohio Pastor Protection Act, a discrimination bill that claims it would allow religious figures to refuse to perform marriages against their “beliefs.” He also, of course, insists on calling gay people “homosexuals,” which for years has been code for homophobia.

Bennett hopes that his message of inclusion, and his willingness to reach across party lines and work with others, will help unseat his anti-LGBTQ opponent.

For more from OutSports, check out these stories:

CONVERSATIONS