LGBT Candidates Out and Running
In this tumultuous election year Wisconsin’s LGBT community should be grateful for its various out political representatives who fight for our rights. Wisconsin has a lesbian senator, a gay congressman and, over the years, has had LGBT members in the state Assembly (currently, there are four). And, both Milwaukee and Kenosha counties have an LGBT identified supervisor. So, nearly half a century after Stonewall, one might wonder why we are not represented in Milwaukee’s Common Counsel (the closeted ones don’t count). It can’t be for lack of trying. Well, perhaps it can.
Over the decades there have only been two attempts by out LGBT politicians to run for city office. In 1996 Karen Gotzler ran for District 3 Alderperson to bring LGBT representation to the city’s Common Council. Comprised of Riverwest and the East Side, one might expect that district would provide fertile ground for such political ambitions. Alternative, liberal and educated, the electorate would seem the most likely to vote for an LGBT candidate. Unfortunately, Gotzler’s effort failed. Still, she succeeded in raising awareness of the ever-increasing voice and potential impact of LGBT citizens in local politics.
Yet, it wasn’t until a dozen years later, in 2008, when another out LGBT candidate would run. In that year’s primaries, there were actually three. It was hoped that the goal of having an LGBT member of the Common Council would finally be achieved. But again, it was not to be.
Michael LaForest ran unsuccessfully against the 11th District incumbent, Joseph Dudzik. Ironically, the other two opposed each other. Sura Faraj and Patrick Flaherty vied with other, non-LGBT candidates for an open seat in the 3rd district. Both Faraj and Flaherty had activist credentials. Flaherty was iconic in the community for his politically involvement. He had also worked with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) and later, the LGBT Community Center. Faraj, too, had been engaged in various LGBT, business and environmental causes and was one of the founders of the LGBT Community Center.
In fact, the gay issue played a significant role in defining the candidates. Flaherty was attacked both for being too gay as a one-issue candidate (which he wasn’t) and not gay enough when his rival pointed out that his partner was not mentioned in his campaign literature. In the end, Flaherty and Nik Kovac prevailed in the primary. But then Faraj endorsed Kovac.
The apparent strategy shift away from electing an LGBT person was due to a previous arrangement made between Faraj and Kovac. Each agreed to support the other should one lose the primary. Faraj remained loyal to the agreement. The resulting aldermanic contest was bitter fought with Flaherty losing by just more than 70 votes. The idea of electing an LGBT alderperson was undone. But Kovac was deemed LGBT friendly and that was close enough.
Since then there have been no attempts by out LGBT candidates to seek city office. Given our representatives in state and federal government, it’s ironic that Milwaukee’s diverse and active LGBT community still remains without its own political voice. And, sadly, the closeted ones, for fear of guilt by association have never advocated for LGBT causes. Thankfully, we have other allies.