Regional elections spotlight LGBT issues

Regional elections spotlight LGBT issues

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Tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell, who previously headed an “ex-gay” program, made national headlines last week after winning Delaware’s Republican primary Senate election against a longtime lawmaker. In Maryland, however, LGBT candidates won: The state is now poised to tie for the number of out state legislators.

O’Donnell bested Congressman Mike Castle, a nine-term moderate seeking to fill Vice President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat, by about 6 percentage points in the Sept. 14 election.

O’Donnell riled LGBT activists several weeks ago after apparently “gay-baiting” Castle, calling him “un-manly” and making other references to his sexuality. A consulting firm reportedly hired by O’Donnell also released an advertisement charging that Castle had an affair with a man, although the candidate denied approving the ad.

O’Donnell, who is anti-abortion and reportedly anti-masturbation, is the founder of the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth and facilitated the agency’s ex-gay counseling program. She is also the former press secretary for Concerned Women for America, a conservative public-policy agency that has long opposed LGBT rights.

Many pundits have stated that O’Donnell’s far-right views could be beneficial to Democratic challenger Chris Coons.

Bob Martz, president of the advocacy group Delaware Liberty Fund, concurred.

“On a positive side, I think that for Chris Coons, whom I’m supporting, this has been a big boost for his campaign,” he said, noting, however, that voters should not become complacent. “I’m hoping the LGBT community comes out in droves for him and gets their friends and business associates to do the same thing, because that’s what it’s going to take for him to win.”

Harvey Hurdle, a Philadelphia member of the board of directors of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said O’Donnell’s upset win should illustrate the need for strong community support for pro-LGBT candidates.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in this election, it’s not to predict anything,” Hurdle said. “This community knows how damaging having someone like Rick Santorum in office was for all those years, and [O’Donnell’s] views are even more extreme than his. So this should be a wake-up call for the community in Delaware and in Pennsylvania to get out there and support the people who support us.”

Maryland LGBT candidates

Meanwhile, in Maryland, seven openly LGBT state legislature candidates won: four incumbents and three newcomers.

If all seven succeed in November, Maryland would be tied with New Hampshire for the state with the greatest number of out state legislators.

The incumbents include Sen. Richard Madaleno, the first out state legislator in Maryland, and House of Delegates members Anne Kaiser, Heather Mizeur and Maggie McIntosh. The four will be joined in the general election by Luke Clippinger, Bonnie Cullison and Mary Washington. Candidates Tim Quinn and Dana Beyer were unsuccessful in their challenges for the Senate and House, respectively.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, said the agency was “thrilled” at the election results.

She noted that the candidates’ sexual orientation weren’t an issue in the primary.

“It just wasn’t a big deal,” Meneses-Sheets said. “They were talking about the same issues that other candidates were talking about — the economy, jobs, education, community-building — and the wonderful thing is that Marylanders understand that [LGBT individuals] live in every community and are looking out for our families, wanting the same things that they do.”

Meneses-Sheets said that in the upcoming legislative session, the LGBT community will be pressing for a marriage-equality law and the incorporation of gender identity into the state’s nondiscrimination law. She noted that the challengers, if elected, could be instrumental in fueling those initiatives.

“Mary Washington will be coming in as the first African-American lesbian in the Maryland General Assembly, and that’s certainly going to help to continue the wonderful relationship we have with the Legislative Black Caucus. And Lou Clippinger is partnered with a family and he’s going to be a real example of a family that deserves equal protections and rights. And then there’s Bonnie Cullison, who’s been with her partner for years, worked with the Montgomery County Education Association and is a well-respected policy leader. These are three folks who are hardworking and are going to make a real difference for the LGBT community and for all Marylanders.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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