Skip to comments.Institute Helps Gays Win Political Office
Posted on 08/04/2005 2:47:30 PM PDT by Crackingham
When state Sen. Jennifer Veiga made the agonizing decision to come out as Colorado's first openly gay lawmaker, she turned to the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute for strategic advice. And when Beth Sebian signed on to help an openly gay candidate for mayor of Brockton, Mass., she attended the institute's campaign seminar and learned what to do if an opponent tries to make an issue of homosexuality. Veiga credits the institute with helping her win re-election in 2002 after she went public; Sebian says the group is helping her avoid mistakes in Jass Stewart's September primary campaign.
The 14-year-old Washington-based institute matches candidates with consultants, helps with fund-raising and runs up to five campaign seminars a year around the country including one earlier this year in the conservative bastion of Colorado Springs. Robin Brand, the institute's vice president for campaigns and elections, said the group mostly teaches fundamentals that any candidate gay or straight would learn from any consultant: identifying potential voters, raising money, building contact lists. But the institute also uses role-playing exercises and other training to help candidates avoid being sidetracked by questions about homosexuality.
"We tell them to answer openly and honestly, but to get back on message," Brand said. "It's a great exercise because that is one of the challenges that openly gay candidates need to handle."
The institute is quiet about its work. Brand and other officials declined to provide details of the training, and reporters were allowed to watch the seminar here for just 15 minutes.
Veiga, a Democrat who represents Denver, said she contacted the institute when she became worried opponents would make an issue of her homosexuality. The institute put her in touch with campaign consultant Joe Fold, who advised her to disclose her sexual orientation herself. She did so in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News published in August 2002, nearly three months before the election.
"We felt that it was important to come out on her terms," Fold said. "And even though she'd been out with her friends and family for a long time, there's a big difference between that and the public."
Veiga told the newspaper she did not want to make an issue of her homosexuality but feared that some detractors, whom she did not identify, planned a mailing to voters attacking her as a lesbian. Citing two unidentified Republican Party activists, the newspaper said "a few ultraconservative members of the GOP" planned a smear campaign against Veiga based on her sexual orientation.
"I would never make an issue of my sexual orientation unless I knew the attacks were coming," Veiga told the News. "I think you have to ask yourself, `Why is this an issue now, since I've been in office six years?' The only answer I can come up with is I'm moving up in leadership in the House and I'm trying to elect Democrats across the state. And that's threatening."