West Hollywood Mayor: The Gay Place In Politics

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By Mayor John Heilman for dot429

I was first elected in 1984. At the time there were only a handful of openly gay elected officials. My city, West Hollywood, received international attention because we were the first city with a majority of gay and lesbian members on the city council. In 1985, we held the first annual conference of gay and lesbian elected officials. I think there were only eleven of us at the time. Times have definitely changed.

Today when openly LGBT officials meet, we can’t fit in the same room. We have mayors of big cities and small cities. We now have several members of congress. We have openly gay and lesbian state Supreme Court justices. The mayor of Houston is an out lesbian. The mayors of Paris and Berlin are openly gay men.

I never thought that I would see these changes in areas that were conservative. But we’ve had openly LGBT elected people elected in Texas, Oakland, Missouri and Arkansas. One of the reasons this has happened is that more and more people have come out and have been honest about who they are. Once people realize who we are and all that we are, people are willing to vote for us as long as we do a good job.

Another reason for the growth in LGBT elected officials is the tremendous work being done by the Victory Fund. The Victory Fund train people to run for office and have helped people raise money to run their campaign. The Victory Fund has largely been responsible for many of the newer LGBT elected officials. The Victory Fund has provided crucial guidance and support to people running in areas where there haven’t been LGBT elected before.

The presence of gay elected officials on city councils and state legislatures and in Congress has changed the dialogue on LGBT rights. There’s an old saying in politics, that if you want to get things done, you have to have a seat at the table. Now that there are openly elected LGBT officials in many legislative bodies, issues of concern to the LGBT community have received greater attention and greater respect. But LGBT elected officials are not just leaders on issues of concern to the LGBT community; many LGBT elected officials are respected leaders on a whole range of issues such as the environment, social services, senior services, housing, and finance.

While many people are interested in serving in an elected office, there are also opportunities for LGBT people to serve in political organizations and in non-elected government positions. There are now openly LGBT city managers, department directors, attorneys, and engineers who serve their communities without serving in elected office. And of course the changes we’ve seen in government over the last twenty five years are mirrored by changes in almost every other profession. There are openly LGBT law enforcement officers, doctors, nurses, entertainers and business owners. Again, this change is a result of people coming out and being who they are and the result is a greater awareness and acceptance of our community. We certainly haven’t achieved full equality. But we’re now living in a different era. Twenty five years ago full equality was merely a dream – now it seems an inevitability.

For more information about the City of West Hollywood please visit: http://www.weho.org

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