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In my little nuclear-free suburb last week, the voting members of my ward joined together to elect a lesbian to represent us on the Takoma Park City Council. I had decided to support her (for reasons beyond her lesbianism), and she won handily.
Meanwhile, in my little hometown back in Iowa, I was backing a candidate with a different ideology and a different sexual orientation. My brother, Mike, who’s straight and a registered Republican, made his inaugural run for public elected office.
His chances of winning were slim; among his three opponents for two open seats on the Burlington City Council were an immensely popular former fire chief and the sitting mayor, an incumbent councilmember. As I wished him well in the days before the election, I prepared to console him when he fell just short of his aspirations.
The race was nonpartisan, but I know Mike’s political affiliations, so it crossed my mind as I clicked the PayPal button to donate to his campaign that this was the first time I’d made any kind of donation to help a Republican win office. A couple of weeks ago, I went on record with a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, urging Burlington residents to vote for my big brother.
Back in Maryland, the election of an openly lesbian councilmember was hardly groundbreaking for Takoma Park. A decade ago, Bruce Williams became the first citywide openly gay elected official in the metropolitan area when he won a seat on that council, and he just won re-election to a sixth term. Williams put his sexual orientation in the forefront when he first ran, with extensive coverage of his race in the Washington Blade, where at the time I was a reporter covering Maryland and, by extension, the Bruce Williams race.
When Heather Mizeur ran for a council seat representing my ward this fall, there was nary a mention in the local gay press, not even when she won. Maybe this means gay candidates aren’t stop-the-presses news the way they were ten years ago, or that the gay press is focused elsewhere, although they did cover Virginia elections extensively.
Mizeur’s sexual orientation didn’t really come up in the campaign, although press reports outside the gay community made reference to her female partner.
In Takoma Park, though, sexual orientation is pretty much a non-issue, and we gays are far from invisible within the city limits. For instance, we have lesbians across the cul-de-sac from us, lesbians directly behind us, lesbians two houses down from those lesbians, gay men with cocker spaniels around the corner, and so on, and so on.
In Burlington, where my brother’s race was heating up, gays are a little less visible. But the issue became relevant enough to merit a story to itself in the local newspaper before the primary, as council candidates were asked their opinions on gay civil rights. My mother read me a newspaper article about this over the telephone, and I winced and warned her not to tell me if it was something that would annoy me or hurt me.
Mike and I have debated gay issues — as well as gun control issues, welfare issues, Bill Clinton issues, Rush Limbaugh issues — over the years, and I’ve seen firsthand his tendency to be a hard-line conservative on these matters. Recently, though, we’ve settled into a peaceful coexistence about most things, including his Republicanism and my lesbianism. I was prepared to hear the worst when she read me my brother’s quote. “I really don’t think it’s the government’s job to legislate morality,” he said. “We have no jurisdiction to protect one class of citizen over another.”
Did I mention he’s a Republican?
The next paragraph in the story, though, came as a slight surprise and a huge comfort. The reporter wrote, “Campbell believes if there were signs that homosexual residents were being oppressed in some fashion then the council should consider creating a new law that protects them from such discrimination.”
I don’t think my brother’s future in politics should be decided on his answer to a question about gay civil rights, especially when his foray into elected public service would be on a body with limited scope where gay issues are concerned.
Last year, the council declined to expand Burlington’s civil rights ordinance to include gays, but early this year they passed a resolution in support of expanding the state’s non-discrimination law. Some Burlington residents, displeased with that resolution, have been pressing the council to overturn it, so the issue may well come up again.
As it turns out, if that happens I will have a chance to see how my brother votes on this matter. Against the odds, he prevailed in last Tuesday’s election and is gearing up now for his first term as a Burlington, Iowa, city councilmember. He won enough votes to oust the mayor, perhaps because of my compelling letter in support of him published in the newspaper. (More likely the voters liked what he had to say and appreciated his door-to-door outreach — and his white-and-black “got mike?” campaign buttons probably helped add a bit of levity, too.)
When he told me the news of his victory, via cell phone from the courthouse where votes had just been tallied, I immediately got choked up. I was surprised and happy, and so proud of my brother. He isn’t someone who fell immediately into a niche career like I did. He’s an extremely talented photographer, but opportunities are limited in our hometown, so that was always a part-time avocation for him. To see him finally fit into a role like this is heartwarming and exciting, because I know he’ll give it everything he has — and I know he has so much to give.
At the same time, though, I feel a little apprehensive about my brother’s future — I envision races for county office, or maybe he’ll go straight to the statewide level. Maybe someday he’ll have an address in my adopted city of Washington, D.C., if he has congressional aspirations. Chances are pretty good that our politics will clash again, which could be terrifying to me, based on the intensity of the disagreements we’ve had in the past.
But I’ve decided to be at peace with Mike’s future, whatever level of office may call him. I have faith in his ability to be fair and to see the bigger picture. He knows he has my support, and I know I have his. He may not be the person representing me on my city council, but I can’t help but think of him as my councilmember too.
Kristina Campbell sees beyond political party lines, at least where family is concerned. For more information about her city council favorites, visit www.campbellforcouncil.com and www.heathermizeur.com.