Out Congressional hopeful set to make history

by Mark Segal
Gay History Project

Jared Polis is on track to become the third openly gay member of Congress this November.

Polis won the Democratic primary in Colorado’s Second Congressional District earlier this month and is expected to easily defeat his Republican challenger in his heavily Democratic district. Polis is the first openly gay individual to run for Congress from Colorado and would be the first openly gay man to be elected to Congress as a non-incumbent.

Mark Segal: Your victory changed the playing field for LGBT candidates. Considering your background, which was in conservation and education, how does a gay man decide to run for office and what, if any, worries did you have?

Jared Polis: I think it’s important for LGBT candidates to show they aren’t single-issue candidates and, just like straight candidates, really speak to the issues that voters care about. In my district, voters care about things like ending the war in Iraq, the environment and universal healthcare, and people everywhere care about improving schools, which was my background.

MS: Did your opponent or others make a point over you being gay?

JP: It’s a difficult thing to overtly make a point of without a backlash, but there’s certainly subtle ways that people did it, like with families, questioning why I didn’t serve in the military, but nothing too overt.

MS: Many people in political circles are saying that your campaign is the shape for LGBT candidates in the future. How do you feel about that?

JP: I think this cycle as a whole has put a number of cracks in the glass ceiling. I think the country has demonstrated it’s ready to elect a woman president or an African-American president. And through our congressional district, which is not a gay Mecca — we don’t have a major urban area — we showed [that] an openly gay candidate can win in a mainstream suburban district.

MS: How important was the support from the Victory Fund and other LGBT organizations?

JP: These elections are won and lost on the ground and in the local district. The national organizations can only do so much. We had a lot of grassroots support from the LGBT community and many volunteers. Certainly Victory Fund helped with fundraising and training, but ultimately, gay and lesbian candidates succeed or fail on their own merit, facing their own voters.

MS: Have you thought about the idea that in January there will indeed be, along with Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, an actual gay caucus?

JP: We’ll finally have someone to meet with. I think that we should have a gay caucus going and try to convince some of the closeted Republican members to join. [Laughs.]

MS: When you walk into the Congressional Hall in January, what will be your feeling as a gay man making history?

JP: It’s exciting to be a part of making history. This has been an ongoing march toward equality. Hopefully, this will open up opportunities for other gays and lesbians in other parts of the country who didn’t think they would be able to participate in the public sphere.

MS: What will your role in the convention be?

JP: I’m working on a pretty busy schedule. I’ll be speaking to a number of groups, including the LGBT caucus, delegates, Stonewall Democrats and, of course, I’ll be doing a number of non-LGBT-related events as well. I’ve got a pretty full schedule.

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