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Openly gay Democrats take the podium at Democratic Convention

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first official day of the Democratic National Convention showcased the party’s solidarity with the LGBT community as speakers — including several openly gay Democrats — took to the podium to voice support and delegates approved for the first time a platform that endorses marriage equality.

In addition to the high-profile speeches at the end of the evening, at least four openly gay speakers were among those delivering remarks from the podium. Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias, Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Stephen Kerrigan and Service Employees International Union Mary Kay Henry and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) delivered remarks.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.

A primetime speaking slot was awarded to Polis, who is slated to become the most senior openly gay member in the lower chamber of Congress upon the start of next year after Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) finish their final terms as U.S. House members.

Polis wasn’t shy about talking about his sexual orientation during his speech. He declared he was gay among other things upon taking the stage, saying, “My name is Jared Polis. My great-grandparents were immigrants. I am Jewish. I am gay. I am a father. I am a son. I am an entrepreneur. I am a congressman from Colorado. I am always an optimist. But first and foremost, I am an American.”

The first openly gay parent to serve in Congress, Polis mentioned his partner, Marlon Reis, by name while emphasizing respect for diversity — for people who may identify as LGBT and others who hold views that are either conservative or progressive.

“So tonight, I don’t just ask my fellow Americans to respect my relationship with my partner Marlon and my role as a father to our son,” Polis said. “I also ask them to respect the Christian family concerned about decaying moral values and crass commercialism. I ask them to respect the difficult decision of a single mother to bring a child into this world, because of her heartfelt beliefs.”

Polis mentioned some of Obama’s pro-LGBT initiatives that he said demonstrates the president’s understanding that progress can only be achieved by working together.

“It is why he repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so that no person is prevented from serving the country they love because of whom they love,” Polis said. “And it is why Barack Obama became the first sitting president in American history to show his personal support for same-sex marriage.”

Michael Key, Washington Blade

Andrew Tobias

Tobias, who spoke earlier in the day, said his speech marked the fourth time he’s addressed a Democratic National Convention and noted each time he’s made an address he talks about two things: money and equality.

Praising Obama for his work over his first term, Tobias said the administration has “dramatically improved” the lives of millions of LGBT Americans and “at no cost” to anyone else.

Tobias also offered a personal anecdote about being gay as a way to demonstrate the tremendous progress that has been made on LGBT rights in the past few decades.

“In college, I thought I was the only guy in the world who liked other guys,” Tobias said. “Later I found there was someone else like me, our 26-year-old resident tutor. He and I never talked about it at the time. No one talked about being gay back then. People killed themselves over being gay. Tragically, some kids still do.”

Tobias later revealed the identity of that resident tutor, saying he wed another man at a wedding just eight weeks ago, where love that was “unspeakable” nearly a half-century ago was celebrated ”by hundreds of people — straight and gay, surfers and senators.”

“In a way, it was a wedding that married my two topics — money and equality — because that young tutor had grown up to become the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee: Barney Frank,” Tobias said.

Kerrigan, who was charged with managing the convention, made no explicit mention of his sexual orientation or LGBT issues during his speech and instead talked about the opportunities at the convention and access through digital media. Neither did SEIU’s Henry, who focused on labor issues while criticizing Romney, saying “Time after time, working families have paid the price for Mitt Romney’s success.”

Additional coverage of Day 1 at the DNC by Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade is here and here.

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