For the first time in Oregon history, two candidates in local races are openly GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender.)
One is a Democrat; one is a Republican.
Christopher Proudfoot, running for the nonpartisan Ward 8 City Council seat in West Salem, is a man who grew up in a political family.
“I always said I was going to run for office,” he says. Election, for Proudfoot, means “an opportunity for public service, an opportunity to give back.”
Proudfoot spent 6 years as volunteer coordinator for Pride Northwest and in 2009 worked with Basic Rights Oregon. He met often with Oregon legislators and helped create the Safe Schools Act of 2009. The bill “established rules about how to define bullying and helped define the steps to be taken” in instances of bullying, he says. LGBT youth are disproportionally affected by school bullying, so the passage of the act was an important personal achievement.
“I was actually at the bill signing,” Proudfoot says, “it was a really special moment.”
He wants to make City Council more accessible . “Too often now, too many people think decisions are made behind the scenes by the same actors, and people find out too late. We need to change that.”
Proudfoot is also deeply involved with work er’s rights. “I want a workplace that has opportunities, and employees wh o have a fair working relationship with employers,” he says. His support for the rights of workers has earned him eight union endorsements.
Of the others running for the four open city council seats, Proudfoot notes, “when I look at the field of candidates, I don’t see a lot of diversity, with the exception of Xue Lor and Sheronne Blasi. There’s diversity of opinion for sure, but not a lot of cultural diversity.”
GLBT candidates, Proudfoot believes, offer “an opportunity to bring different experience to the forefront of city issues.“
With marriage equality laws being enacted around the country, Proudfoot acknowledges that progress has been made. “We’ve been relatively successful with issues like domestic partnership and health rights. But,” he says, “we can do more.”
Proudfoot strongly feels that public office should be available to anyone who wants to serve his or her community. “Unfortunately there’s a preconception that it’s exclusive. But this isn’t true. Anyone can run. And they should run. Public office should be open to everyone.”
On the other side of the aisle, James Owens is one of four people hoping to be the Republican candidate for State Representative, 20th District, the seat being vacated by Vicki Berger.
As the president of the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) of Oregon, Owens is the first openly gay Republican to run for the Oregon legislature.
He began life being raised in a “
conservative Republican family in Polk County and experienced “years of struggle, since it doesn’t make sense to be part of a party that is hostile to you.”
Owens was glad, several years ago, to discover the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization begun in the 1970’s
and dedicated to representing gay and lesbian conservatives “who have chosen to transform the GOP from the inside, working to overcome exclusion and intolerance,” according to the LCR web site.
“What I found out.” Owens says
about finding LCR, “was that a lot of other people were struggling, too.”
Leading the Oregon state party has been “eye-opening, since we decided to make a presence at both Republican events and at gay events,. It was at Republican events that we realized how far the Republican Party still has to evolve on social issues.”
At the same time, at a booth at Portland’s Pride Fair, Owens learned that “we didn’t sit well with a large portion of the GLBT community, either. People were taken aback. So at both ends we’ve had resistance.”
is not dampened. “In order for the Republican party to not become irrelevant, it needs to change its position on social issues,” he says, “while retaining core Republican principles of individual responsibility, personal liberty and a smaller, less intrusive government.”
District 20 has been Republican for decades,” Owens says, “and I would hate that to go to a far-right wing social conservative. Because social issues are where we lose as a party.”
One of Owens’s many interests is education. “Oregon consistently ranks in the bottom 10 states nationally, and comes in dead last in mathematics. We need to bring control back to local schools.”
Veteran’s issues are important to the candidate. “As a veteran myself, I’ve seen the struggles and pain service members bring home from war.”
Both Proudfoot and Owens speak about passion for leadership. They speak about the opportunity they see in 2014 to be both a political candidate and openly GLBT.
But it’s more than that, Owens says.
“I think our community is ready. Not just for GLBT candidates, but also to look beyond GLBT identities and see GLBT people as leaders, too.”