As director and producer of the film Breaking Through, I interviewed 24 openly LGBT elected officials across the country, who shared their stories of overcoming tremendous barriers to win office. I was inspired by their strength and candor as they revealed their personal struggles and the multiple barriers they had to break through throughout their lives and eventual campaigns. In theirs, and each of the other stories, stereotypes, deep-seated bigotry and misinformation were central themes.
And sometimes, the attacks came from within -- from the very people who claimed to share common values. In many ways, these were the most disheartening. They were also the most telling. Under pressure, a person's character is revealed. What will they do to gain or maintain their position? What might they sacrifice in order to achieve their goal?
These same themes are playing out in real time, here in Georgia.
Jason Carter is running for Governor and a progressive Democrat will win his soon-to-be-vacated State Senate District 42 seat. But what kind of progressive? Candidate Elena Parent sent out a push poll that included a false statement about her openly gay opponent Kyle Williams -- that he accepted money from an organization that also gives to conservatives like John McCain. As the media followed up with this claim, they discovered Parent's campaign was referring to the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans. The truth is, that group made a joint endorsement -- not a contribution -- with Georgia Equality and Georgia Stonewall Democrats as a show of solidarity in a non-partisan race. Quite a different story, isn't it?
Surely Parent's campaign did their research. Which begs the question: why did she misrepresent the facts to try and use an LGBT candidate's community against him?
Just a few weeks ago, the so-called "religious freedom" bills came perilously close to passing in the Georgia legislature, fueled by anti-gay rhetoric. Now, an openly LGBT candidate is being attacked for accepting an endorsement from the LGBT community. Do we really need more of that in a notoriously anti-progressive state?
These are the types of "sacrifice anything" strategies I observed as Executive Director of Georgia Equality, co-chair of the board of Victory Fund and again while filming Breaking Through.
When Kathy Webb was running for State House in Arkansas, fellow Democrats on the campaign trail said "Don't vote for her: Republicans won't work with her and she won't get anything done." Fortunately, the voters ignored that nonsense and elected Webb. Within a couple years, she become the first woman Chair of Joint Budget Committee of the AR legislature. Not bad for someone who was predicted to be unproductive.
Dirty tricks and lies are, unfortunately, too often part of the political game. But the real "kick in the gut" -- especially to a qualified, openly LGBT candidate - is that this particular one comes from a professed progressive. The message that sends to LGBT young people who might aspire to public service, or to simply live their lives openly, is frighteningly familiar: being LGBT is a liability and it is better to stay in the closet -- or, as we continue to see throughout the country, to just give up.
We made Breaking Through to help counter that notion. And Kyle Williams is a brave example of living a life of service openly and authentically.
Let's hope Georgia voters recognize the attack on Williams for what it is: the willingness of a candidate to sacrifice her stated values and use LGBT support as a weapon. Not a very progressive value.