Joe Vogel got into politics as a precocious high-school student, when he volunteered for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012. He was just 15 years old.
More campaigns followed, and by the time the out gay delegate graduated from the George Washington University in D.C. with a degree in political science he’d worked on several local races, as well as Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016, Cory Booker’s race for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Michael Bloomberg’s independent bid the same year, and Joe Biden’s winning presidential campaign.
LGBTQ Nation put Jenkins in the hot seat to talk poetry, the Black Panthers, and of course, Bullwinkle J. Moose.
Two years later, he earned a master’s in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
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In between, Vogel founded Learn It Together, a nonprofit devoted to helping the children of essential workers as they transitioned to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also ran to represent tiny District 17 just outside Washington D.C. as a delegate to the Maryland House of Representatives. He took office in January.
Now Vogel is running in the state’s westernmost Sixth Congressional District to replace Congressman David Trone (D), who hopes to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin in 2024.
While he won’t be president unless Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his way — Vogel was born in Uruguay and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was three — he could be the first out gay Jewish Latino to represent Maryland in Congress.
Vogel spoke with LGBTQ Nation from the Hot Seat in his car.
LGBTQ Nation: Where did I find you today?
Joe Vogel: We are driving to Frostburg, Maryland right now for the annual Halloween parade out there.
LGBTQ Nation: Oh, fun. Are you in costume?
JV: I’m dressed like a 26-year-old state legislator and candidate for Congress.
LGBTQ Nation: The campaign ad featured on your website is a slick appeal to younger voters that takes place in a high school. What group or groups in high school did you fit into?
JV: I was voted “Most Spirit” in the yearbook, so I think I was pretty social. I bounced around a lot. I was in musical theater. I was also on the soccer team, but I was mostly on the bench there. I don’t think that I was your, you know, premiere athlete. I was really involved in student government and actually spent part of my time in high school volunteering for Democratic campaigns.
LGBTQ Nation: This year, you introduced the Event-Goer Rights and Accountable Sales Act, an acronym, ERAS, that spells out the name of the Taylor Swift tour that crashed Ticketmaster in 2022. Two questions: 1) are you a Taylor Swift fan, and 2) was your legislation simply a blatant attempt to get free tickets to her show?
JV: I’m a Swifty. I actually just saw the ERAS Tour concert movie last week. I’m probably in the top, I would say like, 60-70th percentile in the world of Swifties. I don’t think that I’m her number-one top listener on Spotify, but I’m up there. I was impressed with how many of those songs I was able to sing along to. I think the Red album is probably my favorite.
But the piece of legislation, it had some meat and substance to it, so it wasn’t just all fun and games with what was going on with Ticketmaster and the ERAS Tour. But my team and I, we did want to brand it that way and spent some time figuring out that acronym on a big whiteboard, writing all the different options.
LGBTQ Nation: You interned in college for both Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate. Who would win in a cage fight?
JV: Nancy Pelosi, no doubt about it.
LGBTQ Nation: You’re a digital native. Does a day go by when you’re not online?
LGBTQ Nation: Is Facebook a sewer of misinformation and hate or an indispensable community resource?
JV: I’ve done some work on the tech accountability front, and I think, in large part, because of a leadership failure and some poor decisions that have been made within the Facebook world, it has been turned into a major source of misinformation that I think contributes to a lot of our societal challenges right now.
LGBTQ Nation: Who would you rather spend an evening with at the theater: Lauren Boebert or Matt Schlapp?
JV: Wow. That’s — I mean, that is a tough question. I think Lauren Boebert is a soon-to-be defeated member of Congress, so I think she’ll have plenty of time to go to the theater.
I am going to say — Lauren Boebert.
LGBTQ Nation: You have to choose: TikTok or Instagram?
JV: Instagram. I mean, sometimes I do some scrolling on Tik Tok here and there, but, you know, I like seeing what my friends are up to on Instagram. That’s just where I spend most of my time engaging with folks online.
LGBTQ Nation: Young people today, as you describe in that campaign ad, face multiple issues, from the threat to democracy to climate change to an assault on personal rights to gun violence. You say those and similar challenges moved you “to get involved and give back.” Do you think young people today, and the country, could benefit from compulsory national service?
JV: In Maryland, I voted on legislation that created a service-year option for young people across the state. I think there is tremendous value to that. And I’d like to see some version of that on a national scale. In terms of compulsory, I think it largely should be up to every individual to decide whether to partake in that, but I think that there is tremendous benefit to, at the very least, having it as an option.
LGBTQ Nation: What’s the single most important thing the world can do to address climate change?
JV: Reducing emissions across all sectors of society.
Climate change is the single largest threat our world faces, and that’s a reality my generation has grown up confronting. We hoped our leaders would do the work to stave off the worst, but they haven’t delivered.
LGBTQ Nation: What’s wrong with Elon Musk?
JV: I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m qualified to be able to diagnose that. But I think that, at the end of the day, what he is doing to Twitter is posing serious challenges to our information ecosystem and therefore to our democracy. So I’m concerned. But his Tesla light show is pretty cool.
LGBTQ Nation: How would you describe Donald Trump in one word?
LGBTQ Nation: What’s another word for MAGA?
LGBTQ Nation: The new speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana, has written: “Homosexual relationships are inherently unnatural, and, the studies show, are ultimately harmful and costly to everyone. Society cannot give its stamp of approval to such a dangerous lifestyle. If we change marriage for this tiny, modern minority, we will have to do it for every deviant group.”
Which description do you most closely identify with? “Unnatural,” “dangerous,” or “deviant”?
JV: So, I think Mike Johnson is going to love serving with me in Congress. And I think in his eyes, I’ll be a little deviant pushing against his extreme MAGA, chaotic agenda.
LGBTQ Nation: Are you single or in a relationship?
JV: Single right now. I could be Maryland’s most eligible bachelor. Who knows?
LGBTQ Nation: You’re 26 and not married yet. How upset is your mother?
JV: I think she knows that I’m a little busy right now.
LGBTQ Nation: It’s the morning after Election Night 2024. What are you doing?
JV: I am sleeping because we have been running all over straight for the last six months and have at least a year to go here. And I think it’ll be — I’ll be pretty tired.
But I’ll tell you what I did the morning after my election for the House of Delegates. I had a constituent call me about an issue, so I slept in and by noon I was already on site, helping deal with an issue they were having in our community. So you know, I’ll sleep in and then get to work.