LGBT legislators then and now

This new column, which we’re titling Our History, Our Future, will focus on one story from GN archives and explore how the issues in the article are relevant to the community today. We believe that remembering our history and the people who shaped it is vitally important to preserve and strengthen our future. As the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sometimes we have to look back in order to look forward.

In the very first issue of PGN, Jan. 3, 1976, M. David Stein wrote an article titled “The Gay Vote,” about how the 1975 general elections across the country played out for LGBT and LGBT-friendly candidates. That year in Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Frank Rizzo was re-elected, and several new councilmembers won office, including Lucien Blackwell and Cecil B. Moore, both of whom were friends to the community during their careers. Amendment 1275, which would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public spaces, had been recently defeated in City Council.

Also, in the 1975 elections, pro-gay Houston mayor Fred Hofheinz was re-elected with the help of the Houston GLBT Caucus, a civil rights organization founded that year to help mobilize voters and elect pro-equality candidates. In San Francisco, George Moscone won the mayorship over his anti-gay opponent, while Harvey Milk, in his first run for city supervisor, received 53,000 votes but was ultimately defeated. Boston Mayor Kevin White was also re-elected and vowed to sign an executive order banning discrimination against gay people in city hiring (he did sign an executive order in 1982). And in Washington State, pro-gay candidate Bruce Chapman was elected as secretary of state, and a pro-gay majority was elected to Seattle City Council.

However, the 1975 election wasn’t without its share of setbacks. Voter turnout in New York and New Jersey was low (around 30 percent), and both states saw equal rights amendments for women defeated. The LGBT community supported those amendments, and failure to pass legislation was seen as a defeat for both feminists and LGBT rights. Elections in Miami and Minneapolis were also not favorable for gay and lesbian candidates. In 1975, most of the few LGBT candidates running for public office were not elected.

However, over 40 years later, in 2018, a “rainbow wave” swept the country, and over 150 openly LGBT candidates were elected. In Kansas, Sharice Davids became the first lesbian congressperson from the state, and two LGBT people were elected to Kansas’ House of Representatives. Jared Polis was elected governor of Colorado, the first LGBT person to serve as a state governor. And Malcolm Kenyatta became the first black LGBT person to be elected to the Pennsylvania House. The Victory Fund said that at least 399 out candidates appeared on ballots across the country.

Despite the gains in the number of openly LGBT candidates and politicians, one thing that has remained consistent throughout history is the discrimination they face. In 1974, Elaine Noble, the first out LGBT person elected to major public office, received death threats during her first campaign for Massachusetts House. In 2018, Christine Hallquist, who ran for governor of Vermont and was the first transgender gubernatorial nominee for a major party, endured the same types of threats.

As we approach a general election next week in Philadelphia, we should remember that electing LGBT and LGBT-friendly candidates is the best way to enact political change. It was true in 1975, and it is still true in 2019.


Original Article Text:

The gay vote—where we work, it can work

By M. David Stein on January 3rd, 1976


As with other issues, elections late last year showed no clear pro or anti-gay trends in the country at large. The main lesson, again, was that where Gays are well-organized and united, they can have a significant impact, while fragmentation or apathy dilute out influence to the vanishing point.

Either apathy or general disgust with all politics produced unusually low turn-outs in New York and New Jersey (25% and 34% respectively) and that has been widely credited as a major factor in defeating gay-supported state Equal Rights Amendments for women there. State legislators are taking the results as representing a backlash against the feminist and other liberation movements, so it is expected that all chance for pro-gay legislation in these states has been killed at least for this year.

The biggest success story for gay political action comes from Houston, where the 2,000 member Gay Political Caucus helped re-elect pro-gay incumbent mayor Fred Hofheinz. Hofheinz failed to receive more than 50% of the vote in a five-candidate race last November, but was the front-runner with 47.5%. On December 2 he defeated former District Attorney Frank Briscoe (an openly anti-gay conservative) in a run-off election, receiving 57% of the total. The mayor publicly thanked the Gay Caucus, among other supporting groups, in his televised victory speech. (He received up to 73% of the vote in heavily gay districts of the city.) He has promised Caucus members that he will introduce a gay rights bill in the city council, establish a regular liaison office to serve the gay community, and officially declare Gay Pride Week next June. Meanwhile, the GPC is gearing up for the presidential primary, for which it will try to get as many pro-gay delegates as possible on the slates of both parties. There are already two GPC precinct election judges, and the group expects to have at least two more before the primary.

San Francisco presented, in contrast, a study to disunity, although with what most gay leaders in the city consider a happy ending nevertheless. Gay support in the mayoral contest was split between Democratic State Senator George Moscone (who as Majority Leader was credited with a major role in passing the California bill legalizing all private consensual sexual acts between adults) and City Supervisor Diane Feinstein. Moscone was the front-runner, but was forced into a run-off election December 11 with the second-highest polling candidate, Supervisor John Barbagelata, a conservative with an anti-gay record, whose main issue was cutting government spending. (He drafted several successful ballot propositions intended to limit future salary raises for city workers, including police and firefighters, whose strike last fall embittered many city residents. Moscone opposed their propositions, and is seen by many of his critics as being “owned” by the labor unions.)

Despite his record and very ineffective campaigning in gay areas, Barbagelata had some gay supporters who claimed that he has been “educated” and would be less of a danger than “free-spending” Moscone. In the end, the run-off was very close, with Moscone winning by only 2.1%. (In other San Francisco races, pro gay Sherriff Richard Hongisto was overwhelmingly re-elected and anti-gay District Attorney John Ferndon was dumped in favor of Joe Freitas, who was endorsed by The Advocate. Openly gay candidate for Supervisor Harvey Milk was not elected, but did receive 53,000 votes.)

Boston’s incumbent mayor Kevin White was narrowly re-elected over challenger Joseph Timilty, a state senator, but the main issue was bussing and racial integration, not gay rights. Both candidates had promised to support a municipal gay rights ordinance in Boston, though White went further and vowed to issue an executive order banning discrimination against Gays in city hiring, if re-elected, as well as declaring “total support” for his controversial liberal Police Commissioner Robert DiGrazia. (DiGrazia’s own position on gay rights is not entirely clear; see his response to the Gay Raiders survey of police hiring and promotion practices, reported elsewhere in this issue. Pro-gay City Councillor Lawrence DiCara was easily re-elected, but Clarence Dilday, a Black who was endorsed by State Rep. Elaine Noble and received much gay support, finished twelfth in his race for a Council seat. (He would have been, if elected, only the second Black to sit on Boston’s Council since the city was incorporated in 1822.)

Gay voters just did not turn out in Miami, whether from apathy or, as some have said, fear. Club Bath Chain President Jack Campbell, running openly as gay, received only 4,703 votes for City Commissioner, while his opponent, homophobic incumbent J.L. Plummer, received 14,310. (Two other candidates for the same seat—who would have endorsed Campbell had there been a run-off—received a total of 5,516 votes.) Campbell, who plans to run for Dade County Commissioner next year, commented that “If the election figures reflect a true vote there will be a cracking down (on Gays): however, if not, then the status quo will continue.”

Liberals and Gays in Minneapolis had their complacency shattered when incumbent Mayor Albert Hofstede, who was expected to be re-elected easily, lost narrowly to former Mayor and former police lieutenant Charles Stenvig. While Stenvig probably should not be called “homophobic,” he certainly does not strongly sympathize with Gays and may direct the city’s Civil Rights Department to give investigation of discrimination against Gays a low priority. The liberal orientation of the City Council was preserved, however, and there seems little chance that the city’s gay rights ordinance will be repealed or anti-gay ordinances passed; on the other hand, Stenvig’s victory may make Council members more reluctant to press for any new reforms in this area.

In Philadelphia, elections were swept by Democrats, but many of them are of the conservative variety typified by Mayor Frank Rizzo (who crushed two challengers in his re-election campaign). With gay rights bill 1275 now dead for this session, chances of enactment of pro-gay municipal legislation from the new Council are judged locally to be less favorable.

A pro-gay majority in Seattle’s City Council was saved by a mere 2,000 votes, as incumbent Councilman John Miller narrowly defeated Lem Tuai. Miller has supported both of Seattle’s gay rights ordinances, while Tuai has made his opposition to gay rights a major issue in this and other campaigns. Incumbents were re-elected easily for the four other Council seats at issue: among them were two prominent friends of the gay community, Phylis Lamphere and Paul Kraabal. However, voters rejected a proposed revision of the city’s charter that, among other things, would have extended even greater legal protection to Seattle Gays. The election of former Seattle Councilman Bruch Chapman as Secretary of State for Washington may boost efforts to secure a state gay rights law, since he supported gay rights in Seattle and has indicated he intends to continue doing so on the state level.