Michigan to send two openly gay delegates to Democratic Convention

By | 2003-04-06T09:00:00-04:00 April 6th, 2003|Uncategorized|

LANSING – For the first time in Michigan’s history, two openly gay delegates will be going to the Democratic Convention, to be held in Boston July 26-29. Keith Orr is going as a delegate for Howard Dean and Rick Wallace is going as a delegate for John Kerry.
According to Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Mark Brewer, the only other openly gay delegate sent by Michigan to the Democratic Convention was John Burchett, sent as a Clinton delegate in 1996. In 2000 Rudy Serra, chair of Michigan’s Lesbian/Gay Democratic Caucus, was sent as an alternate delegate for Al Gore.
“We’re making progress in terms of our representation of the LGBT population,” said Brewer. “Is it enough? No. But we’re working to do better every cycle.”
Kerry delegate Rick Wallace serves as the treasurer of the Oakland County Democratic Party. He was elected at the 9th congressional district convention. The 9th district had five delegate slots, four for Kerry and one for Dean.
The race for delegate slots is fairly competitive. “In my case the race on the men’s side (half the slots go to men and half go to women so that there is equal representation) there were 22 people for two slots in the 9th district. So clearly you need to be able to rally support and come up with a plan and you can do that if you’re active and people know you,” he said.
Wallace encourages more LGBT people to get involved with their political party. “People need to become more involved if they want to have a voice and an influence,” said Wallace who started out in the Democratic Party by volunteering. “The more people that we have who are open and involved the harder it will be for others to pretend that we don’t exist or that our issues aren’t important.”
As for being one of two openly gay delegates Wallace said, “It’s a little bit of progress. The whole delegation is about 160 people so obviously we’d like to see more than two.”
Unlike many in the LGBT community who came out early for Howard Dean, Wallace took a wait and see approach to picking which candidate he preferred. “I was a little bit open that I was going to support whomever the party nominated but I was somewhat uncommitted until things started to happen here because I didn’t want to come out early for one candidate representing the county party,” he said.
“But any of the candidates in the field would be better than what we have now,” he added about George Bush. “He has to be the most hostile President we’ve ever had toward gay and lesbian people.”
Wallace said one of the things he will be doing at the convention is networking. “I’m looking forward to getting together with all of my friends in the party and touching base with people I know from across the country.”
Keith Orr, co-owner of the aut BAR and Common Language Bookstore in Ann Arbor, is attending the convention as a delegate for Dean.
Dean won early support in the LGBT community, even netting an endorsement from Michigan’s Pride PAC.
Orr was one of Dean’s early and outspoken advocates and a member of Dean for America. “One of the reasons we got involved originally was because of his strong stance for gay rights,” said Orr. “He, of course, came to a lot of national prominence for having signed the civil unions bill in Vermont which had been a very politically courageous step.”
Dean’s support for LGBT rights was not the only reason Orr supported him. “When he first started he had two objectives: taking back the country and taking back the party. That’s why we still feel it’s important even though he won’t have many votes that we are there (at the convention) as his representatives.”
Orr added, “I’ve never been a delegate before so this is all going to be new to me.” Orr said there is an Internet list serve set up of LGBT delegates. “We’re trying to make sure we know who each other are,” he said, adding that there were many caucus times set up for the LGBT community at the convention.
Although he is attending the convention as a Dean delegate, Orr supports John Kerry and would like to see him get elected. Orr credits Dean with helping to shape Kerry’s campaign. “One of the things we love to hear is listening to Kerry sound like a Democrat again,” said Orr. “And it is largely because of Dean that he is sounding different.”
Orr believes Dean will help Kerry win. “Dean is Kerry’s secret weapon against Nader,” he said. “Dean and the Dean people are the best at convincing Nader people that it’s very important that we elect Kerry.”
“I do believe in third parties,” he said. “But this isn’t the year for it. It is too critical that we get Bush out of the White House, and John Kerry may not have been my first, second or third choice for Democratic candidates, but the chasm between them is huge.”
Orr asserts that this is not a case of picking between the lesser of two evils. “When one person represents pure evil it’s hard to talk about the lesser of two evils.”
Orr is thrilled he gets to assert his support for Dean one more time. “I get to vote for him one more time and not many people get that opportunity,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people who hope that on the national level we haven’t seen the last of him.”

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