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What Are Special Problems Faced by US Gay Politicians?

Some conservative politicians may be less likely to work with gay colleagues.
Gay politicians may be subject to personal threats and discrimination.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2015
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Gay politicians in the United States face all of the challenges of their heterosexual opponents, but may also be subject to special difficulties due to public response to their homosexuality. Some of these challenges may include discrimination by voters and colleagues based on the politician's orientation and increased media interest in personal relationships rather than political stance. In some cases, openly gay politicians and their families may even be subject to personal threats by detractors. Finally, gay politicians may have to fight against stereotyped images of their political platform in order to truly get their own political beliefs into the spotlight.

One of the largest problems facing gay politicians is discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some people find homosexuality to be an abhorrent and morally evil practice, which by itself disqualifies a person for public office. Additionally, some anti-gay rhetoric encourages the belief that gay or lesbian people in power will use their influence to try and convert others to homosexuality, as well as pushing a political agenda based solely or primarily on their sexual orientation.

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Sometimes, discriminatory beliefs can move beyond the voting booth and pose actual danger to a political official and his or her family. Openly gay politicians may be subject to physical attacks or even murder, as in the case of San Francisco city councilman, Harvey Milk. Gay or lesbian political figures may also receive hate mail, threatening letters or phone calls, and be publicly chastised or insulted for their sexual orientation.

Even in office, a gay politician may face special challenges his or her heterosexual colleagues do not share. Some US politicians, particularly those aligned with conservative religious movements, denounce gay or lesbian colleagues as immoral, or even criminal. These politicians may be less likely to work with a gay colleague, or to support any proposal or plan put forth by an openly gay politician. This refusal to cooperate can slow down the progress of government, making it harder for gay politicians to affect change or reach political goals.

Another challenge sometimes faced by gay politicians is increased media attention because of sexual orientation. While all public figures are subject to media scrutiny, gay politicians may be relentlessly questioned about their sexuality, relationship with a partner or children, and stance on gay political issues. This focus on sexuality can detract from a politician's actual platform of issues, and can lead to a stereotypical image of a gay politician as a liberal Democrat. In truth, gay politicians have widely varying political affiliations, running the gamut from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican.

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MrsPramm
Post 3

@pleonasm - The situation is still not good enough, but I do want to point out that gay US politicians still have it better than their contemporaries in a lot of other places. Generally they at least have a legal guarantee that they will be kept physically safe and hopefully safe from harassment as well, even if it doesn't always turn out that way.

There are still a lot of places in the world where that guarantee doesn't exist at all.

pleonasm
Post 2

@umbra21 - I'm pretty sure that's not true. There might be a small number of people who would vote for a gay candidate over a straight one for that reason, but most of the time I would hope people are more concerned about policies.

And prejudice is real and deep-seated in all communities and levels of society. It's not impossible for a gay politician to reach certain levels of government, but it's certainly not likely and it's definitely not going to be because they are gay. For every vote they get from someone because they are gay I can almost guarantee that they are losing a vote from some bigot for the same reason.

Honestly, I have huge amounts of respect for anyone who is out as a gay politician at any level. I don't think a single one of them would escape from persecution from idiots.

umbra21
Post 1

In some places gay politicians might face extra discrimination, but in other places they probably get more votes based on their sexuality. I definitely know people who would vote for someone just because they happened to be gay and regardless of their other politics. And people like that tend to group together.

I'm sure that a savvy politician in the right place might realize he or she is better off coming out as gay simply as an addition to their platform.

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