Ryan Sebolt: ‘I Want Us to Be a Voice at the Table’

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
By | 2018-08-10T13:58:33+00:00 July 9th, 2018|Michigan, News|

Ryan Sebolt had a good reason for arriving late to his interview with Between The Lines. The openly gay Democrat running for a second term on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners had just participated in the Pride March and Rally on June 16 at the State Capitol, which was delayed due to a downpour. From there, Sebolt headed to Lansing’s Old Town for our meeting, where the remainder of Michigan Pride festivities were well underway. When asked what advice he would give to a young LGBTQ person considering a career in politics, his reply was immediate and enthusiastic.
“I would say, absolutely do it. Call me. I would be happy to give you advice. I think we have about a dozen openly queer people in elected office across the entire state, and we need more,” Sebolt said. “I want there to be more of us to be able to push policies. I want us to be a voice at the table.”
Sebolt then went on to emphasize that many people discount the efficiency of local government and the long-lasting impact it can have — potentially even at a national level. And, of course, its seemingly never-ending workload.
“There’s a lot we can do at local government, there’s a lot we can do at state government. Run for office. Don’t be afraid. There are people out there to support you. There are organizations out there to support you,” Sebolt said. “And you actually will get a lot of credit and appreciation from corners of your community you didn’t know even existed if you do.”
Wearing his signature bow tie, Sebolt was immediately recognizable among the sea of pride attendees in T-shirts and shorts. And although Sebolt’s brand is something of a mainstay in the Lansing political scene these days, the 35-year-old’s political involvement, like that of many, began as a college student.
“I kind of stumbled into politics initially,” he said, “I was active on campus at Albion College … with the LGBT organization at the time, and I became a vocal critic, leading some protests against the campus doctor who refused to prescribe the morning after pill because he wrongly believed it was an abortifacient.”
From there, he met Equality Michigan’s former Program Director Penny Gardner and did an internship with the organization. That was at the same time that Chris Swope decided to run for Lansing City Clerk, offering Sebolt a post-college job as his campaign manager. For Sebolt, that position was a dream come true.
“It was a great opportunity and I just kind of fell into the political work from there and loved it ever since,” he said. “I really believe that local politics is where the things that impact people’s day-to-day lives the most happen ”
And when asked why he chose to run for a seat on the county board, he said it was something that he was pulled to do.
“The county is a regional government, it’s a regional service provider,” he said. “And when my local county commissioner said that she wasn’t seeking office I immediately reached out to her and talked about the prospects of me running for that office.”
His prospects, as it turned out, were great; he ran and won.
Looking back on his first term, the accomplishment that Sebolt is most proud of is his work as chair of the county’s Complete Streets program.
“As we’re designing roads, we’re incorporating ideas for all users of the roads. A lot of counties just have rural roadways, but we have a pretty diverse set of road systems in Ingham County,” Sebolt said. “It’s important that we’re kind of thinking of all users as we’re doing this.”
Should he be elected to a second term, Sebolt has two main priorities. For one, he would like to continue the work that’s already being done to streamline county services in combination with what Ingham County cities and townships already provide.
According to him, it will, “Help find savings for the taxpayers because all local governments are continuing to be asked to do more with less, and it really makes sense for us to combine efforts.”
His second goal is LGBTQ inclusivity.
“One of the other things I want to work on is to really comb through county policies on inclusivity, and make sure that all these policies are as inclusive as possible,” Sebolt said. “In particular, focused on making sure that we’re inclusive of transgender and non-binary individuals, just to make sure that everybody really is being welcomed in the county and can fully participate in the services that we provide.”
One good sign of already present inclusivity is that Sebolt didn’t experience homophobia in his campaign. He said that although much work still needs to be done, he cited trailblazers like Chris Swope who went before him to open up the way. In his first campaign, Sebolt’s primary opponent was also gay, “So it was nice for it to not even be an issue.”
One of the ways in which Sebolt helps to normalize his sexuality in public is in his campaign literature. There, he prominently features his husband, Cody. He stated the reaction thus far has been largely positive.
“I think that closed down a handful of conversations, but at the same time, I had somebody who opened their door and said, ‘I got your mail piece last week, my boyfriend and I were just so proud of the fact that you have your husband on there, front and center. It means so much to us. You’re so brave,’” Sebolt said.
When asked whether being openly gay may, in fact, be a benefit to his campaign he gave a resounding yes.
“I think it’s been a benefit because there are a lot of people in our community who appreciate having that representation,” Sebolt said. “Having that voice of someone out in the open.”
Sebolt sums up his thoughts on inclusion succinctly on his campaign website: “We can find strength in our diversity while bonding over our shared interests.”
Before letting Sebolt return to the business of Michigan Pride happening outside the coffee shop, BTL asked one last question, one that’s been on the mind of many Michiganders who have been following his career lately. Namely, how many bow ties does he own? Sebolt had “no comment” on a specific number and declined to name a favorite. In fact, he said he has lost count of all the bow ties and neckties but made an estimate.
“I’m certain that I have upwards of 100, maybe 120 ties altogether. We have to designate significant closet space to the tie collection,” he said with a laugh.
That is to say, unlike Sebolt, his ties stay in the closet.
More information can be found about Sebolt and his campaign online at VoteRyanSebolt.com.

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist. She also volunteers for the Human Rights Campaign and Affirmations.