Gays and lesbians considering public service should be encouraged by the victories of two gay men in Michigan.
Democrat Chris Swope was elected Nov. 7 as the first openly gay Ingham County commissioner, and Democrat Chris Kolb of Ann Arbor, also elected on Election Day, will serve as Michigans first openly gay state representative.
Michigan joins 22 other states that have openly gay men or lesbians in their state legislatures.
Swopes win reflects well on Ingham County and should motivate other communities to follow its lead. The community should be commended for its decision based solely on issues, instead of making sexuality a major factor in the campaign.
Hopefully, these wins will inspire other gays considering public service to run for office, and feel that they can effectively seek office in other areas of the state as well as the entire country. In addition, they will hopefully promote the election of openly gay public servants in other areas where gays would not have been openly accepted into political races.
Eventually, the election of openly gay officials will be a nonissue, instead of a front-page story. Hopefully, some day, their partners will attract no more attention than those of their heterosexual opponents.
Unfortunately, though, sexual orientation is still an issue in the political world. For example, during the Republican National Convention, members of the Texas delegation bowed their heads in silent prayer when openly gay Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe took the podium.
But both Swope and Kolb have a positive outlook on their future as public servants, and do not see their sexual orientation as a roadblock in their cooperation with fellow public officials. Those working with them should be encouraged to see past their sexual orientation as the voters who elected them did.
Both politicians have said they plan to address issues important to the gay community. Kolb has plans to encourage legislation that would make it illegal to fire employees based on their sexual orientation and Swope plans to address domestic partner benefits.
But both candidates plan to tackle gay rights issues and broader initiatives. Swope hopes to address Lansings teen suicide rate, and Kolb intends to focus his attention on education and environmental issues.
Most importantly, their concern over these issues is no different than any candidate allowing his or her life experiences to shape what he or she does in office.
Gays make up a considerable portion of the population, and should be represented in the government. Hopefully, these two public officials will be an effective voice for the entire population, while being advocates for the gay community as well.