Guest Post: Out, Proud and in Elected Office!

We’re happy to bring you the following guest post by Waymon
Hudson. Waymon is President and Co-Founder of Fight OUT Loud , a national
non-profit organization dedicated to helping LGBT individuals and
their allies fight discrimination and hate. He has been happily
partnered for over 6 years with his husband Anthony.
They received their civil union from Vermont and are registered
domestic partners in Broward County, where they now live with their
two wonderful dogs. They recently married in San Francisco, CA.
Waymon and Anthony are also proud foster parents of a now
college-aged son. This post is cross-posted at Bilerico

The past few days have been a whirlwind here in sunny South Florida
for my husband Anthony Niedwiecki and me. Hopefully you’ve heard by
now that
Anthony was elected to the City Commission in Oakland Park
, a
part of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area, in a resounding victory
with over 65% of the vote cast. Even more exciting, as the top vote
getter in the three open seats, Anthony will become Vice Mayor in
2010 and Mayor of the city in 2011 (it’s a rotating mayorship based
on votes).

It was a long, tough campaign against a well-established opponent
who has previously run for State Senate, and had the support of
some of the current (and not always LGBT friendly)

I am so proud of Anthony and the campaign we ran. We made our
family (our marriage, foster son, and extended family) a strong
part of our campaign and challenged people to face their
ideas about what family and “family values” really means
We were out, proud, and passionate about our community. I think by
the overwhelming vote for Anthony, we see that many people got the

I wanted to talk about some of the decision we made about being so
open and why I think it worked for us, as well as the impact it had
in changing minds and hearts about our community in general.

Of course, this is all just our experience and not a blueprint for
anyone else. But I will say that I am proud and humbled by the
response to our personal story from voters and supporters. Even if
we hadn’t won, it would have been a huge victory in visibility.

And remember, I’m focusing on the LGBT angle here, but we ran
a broad, issues
driven campaign about what mattered to everyone in the city
while weaving in a
strong message of equality
for all residents.

So let’s run through some of the “advice” we got and how we
responded to it.

You’re a little “too Gay”

This was some of the advice we got early on in the process.

We had both been longtime activists for the community here in South
Florida, from the startling
incident at the Fort Lauderdale Airport where a worker played a
death threat aimed at gay people over the intercom system
, to
the ensuing harassment when we fought back against it, to organizing
the massive response to the bigoted words of Mayor Naugle
Fort Lauderdale.

Being “less open” isn’t who we are.

We decided early on that we would embrace our activist nature and
use it as positive part of Anthony’s campaign. He’s always fought
for what he believes in, which is what would make him such an
amazing leader for our city.

We actually used Anthony’s work against Naugle as
an example of how small-minded, divisive actions can distract from
other issues in a city
and how it can have serious and chilling
effects on the atmosphere of a city.

We made his work for the equality of all residents
one of the five main points of the campaign
and people
responded with respect and support.

It was so amazing to see the newspapers reporting the results and
identifying Anthony as both
the top winner and a gay activist
. It sent a strong message to
South Florida.

Forget the “Family Values” Voters

Many people told us to not even bother with large parts of the
voter pool, especially those “value voters.”

Again, that’s not who we are.

We decided to take the “family values” argument and make it
our own
. In fact, it was another one of our five main
campaign points- dedicated to family.

We refused to accept that our relationship and the family
we had built with our foster son was not a family
. We
never shied away from talking about our life. We attended events
together, met voters, answered questions, invited people to our
home, and made our life an open book.

In the week before the election, during the televised public
comments at the last commission meeting before voters went to the
polls, Anthony stood up and
thanked “his husband Waymon for all his support”
, moving many
(including me) to tears.

I think this had some of the most profound effects on people. It
was amazing to hear from extremely conservative people who told us
how moved they were by our family and how we had forced them to
think about their biases and beliefs. One of the city’s most
notorious former candidates who had run an extremely anti-gay
campaign in past years even became an avid supporter of Anthony,
knocking on doors and encouraging people to vote for Anthony.

That’s change I can believe in.

Stay Away from “Controversial” LGBT Issues

Obviously this little gem of advice didn’t sink in with us.

During Anthony’s 18 month campaign, we decided to show people the
kind of leader Anthony would be and how he would use the
platform of his office to create change for all

Anthony spoke out and lobbied against the Florida adoption ban,
talking about our life with our foster son. He pushed the
current city commission to pass a resolution against Amendment
, the horrific amendment that looked to dismantle relationship
recognition in Florida, and spoke about it everywhere he went. He
even made the public promise to fight against the Amendment after
it passed and preserve our domestic partnership rights in South

He was a leader in Oakland Park and Broward County in fighting for
the expansion of non-discrimination policies to include both
sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

He even issued
statements and calls directly from his campaign when Westboro
Baptist Church announced they where coming to Oakland Park
picket a local gay-owned theater.

We didn’t shy away from going to California and getting married.
local papers even ran stories and pictures about it
, which
we happily linked to from
his campaign site

Running for office didn’t mean he had to tone down his activism-
it gave him another platform from which to fight and do the
right thing

Give up the Minority Vote

We all heard the horrific, racist blame game that happened after
Prop 8 and Amendment 2 passed. It was no different in Florida.

Many people thought we shouldn’t even try to make in roads with the
African-American community, especially the religious community.
Once again, that view proved wrong.

Anthony had already been a regular part of the speakers with the
Urban League that traveled to talk about Amendment 2, and we
continued to reach out to all voters in the city for his campaign.
We went, together as a family, to African American churches and
community picnics, and just shared our lives with them.

The response was amazing and moving. It showed the blindness many
in our community have when it comes to other minorities. We all
want the same things for our cities and neighborhoods, for our
families and homes.

And we all want someone who will fight for our rights, which is
what everyone saw in Anthony.

Out and Proud

I think what we saw in this campaign was that you can be an
out and proud activist for our community and still be viable as a
. It might even give you the advantage of being
known as a fighter and someone with strong beliefs and values.

By taking what could be used as a negative against us and making it
our part of our own campaign, we took away the some of the power of
anti-gay bias.

Did we lose some voters for being so out? Perhaps. But with over
65% of the vote, it’s clear that the vision of the campaign, which
included a strong equality messages, was approved by large numbers
of voters.

When made part of a larger progressive agenda (we talked about
environmental stewardship, taxes, smart growth, community
involvement, etc), LGBT issues made sense to many people that had
never really gotten it before.

By seeing that families come in all shapes and sizes, voters got to
know the humanity of LGBT people and not just see the “scary” idea
of those that are “different” from them pushed down their throats
from other sources.

And that’s a victory in my book no matter what the election results