On Tuesday night, October 26th, politically active members of our LGBTQ community will gather at the Canopy Club in an effort to help Get Out the Vote. The organizers have billed this party as a “non-partisan event”; all political parties are invited and encouraged to attend. This Get Out the Vote party is your opportunity to meet your community leaders and ask them any question you may have.
The event will be hosted by Out & About Illinois magazine, and Jacob Meister, former US Senate candidate, will be attending. Other local politicians and candidates will also be stopping by, including State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-103rd) and Dr. David Gill, candidate for US House of Representatives (D-IL15).
Refreshments will be served, the Canopy Club will have drink specials, and H2O Salon will be in attendance offering free haircuts!
Event organizer, Jon Hansen contacted Smile Politely and agreed to an interview to talk about this event and the LGBTQ community’s strong political influence.
Smile Politely: Did this idea begin with Out & About Illinois magazine?
Jon Hansen: Basically, this began with myself and Phil [Reese]. I’m work in D.C., actually, but I’m back for a couple of weeks in an effort to get out the vote in general, but especially here on campus. The LGBT community . . . well obviously, a lot of people are apathetic, and this year especially so. And they’re predicting low voter turnout across the board. Topics related to the LGBT community, whether it’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), or the unfortunate suicides that resulted from bullying, are influencing this election, and showing that we should have our voices heard a little bit more as a group and as a community, and that’s the reason behind the whole effort. Nothing gets done unless you show up to the polls and make your voice heard and choose your leaders, whomever that may be. Get Out the Vote is non-partisan. We’re inviting candidates from all Parties to this event. It’s a chance to hear the candidates say a few words on issues that we care about. And voting is such an important topic to talk about. It really is an important thing to do, and it’s very important to the LGBT community to make sure their voices are heard and their questions are answered.
SP: You say on your Facebook event page that the LGBT community is a large voting block. Do you have specific numbers? Do you know how many voters identify as gay or lesbian in exit polls?
Hansen: When we say ‘large voting block,’ we mean it in a relative sense, that there are numbers out there on how many gay people exist, in general. On this university campus, we’re a very active community. I lived here for eight years, and there are many student organizations, and now we have The UP Center. The LGBT comminity is a very active community in this town. I don’t have specific numbers for you, though, and I don’t know if most exit polls even ask about sexual orientation.
SP: I wish they would, because when I read that it struck me that it would be great if we knew how many LGBT people actually vote at all.
Hansen: Exactly. It would influence a lot of gay rights issues.
SP: You mentioned ‘apathy’ earlier. Do you have any thoughts on what could be causing that? I know I do.
Hansen: In general, I think that a lot of democratic voters are apathetic this election cycle. It’s more general apathy, especially in regards to the congress. Only 17% of people approve of the job that Congress is doing, and I think that causes people to stay at home. There’s this sense that ‘If I vote it’s not going to matter. They’re going to do a poor job anyway,’ and I think that’s true within the LGBT community as well. Recently in the senate, the National Defense Authorization Act did not pass cloture motion, and included on that was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and when those things happen it’s discouraging, especially to LGBT voters who have waited long enough for their voices to be heard and their rights to be given to them, and it can be demoralizing to see — time and time again — the Congress struggle. One of President Obama’s campaign pledges was to end DADT in the first year of his presidency, and obviously there are a lot of politics involved, and it didn’t come about his first year and we’re almost through his second one, and it hasn’t happened.
SP: And he’s not just not doing anything about it, which is exactly the opposite of what he said he was going to do. He’s actually standing in the way of progress about it.
Hansen: Well, I wouldn’t throw those words directly into his face. It’s not easy. I work for a senator and I know that there are a lot of politics involved. And when these things don’t happen, you can see why voters, and especially LGBT voters, will be upset and decide to stay home. It’s because they feel their voices don’t matter. Part of this event is to show that yes, things have not gone the way that we have wanted. Here’s a chance to talk to some local leaders, a chance to ask them questions. Here’s a chance to gather together in one room and get excited again. Get motivated again. We want to tell our friends to vote, LGBT or not. Decisions are made by those who show up. That’s the important thing that we’re trying to get across.
SP: You said this event is non-partisan. So it does not endorse any particular candidate?
Hansen: No, it doesn’t. There will be no actual endorsements, and we’re extending invitations to all candidates. Out & About publishes an endorsement issue, and they’ll have that election issue there. But it’s not meant to tell anyone who to vote for.
SP: Can it be completely non-partisan, though? Are there any candidates that you or the organizers find hostile towards gay rights issues? In that sense, can it really be non-partisan? I mean, what if Bill Brady was showing up? What would you do? How would you react?
Hansen: I think that there may be . . . this is a hard question to answer. I want to stress that we welcome all candidates and I don’t want to discourage anyone from attending. I think that it is somewhat of a misconception that all republicans do not support gay rights. That is not the case. There are certain varying levels of support that are offered from the Republican Party, and even within the Democratic Party. A lot of people assume that all gay people on the books are democrats and they’re going to solve everything, but that’s not necessarily the case either. A lot of times people don’t ask these candidates questions on LGBT issues and this is the chance for us to do it, and for them to answer.
SP: Not all democratic candidates are supportive of full civil rights for gay people. I don’t know if this is how he still feels, but when Mike Frerichs was first running for Illinois Senate, I heard from his own lips, in the same room, as he said it, that he was not for gay marriage rights. He was not for marriage equality. Civil unions only. And he’s a democrat. And I assume everyone is supporting him. But what would he say at your event?
Hansen: You’d have to ask him that.
SP: Sure. And I have before.
Hansen: I think that’s a good question to ask, and it’s good to recognize that. And that helps in making informed decisions. And I think that goes back to the apathy that’s felt. People feel like they don’t have very many options. Obviously, this event is not going to solve all of these problems. It’s meant to give an opportunity for everyone to come together and talk about some of these issues. And it serves as a forum where ideas can happen. I think that too often, people think you can’t change a candidate’s mind; you can’t change a politician’s mind. But this is a way also to invite them to come to the discussion, and we’re hoping they will. Naomi Jakobsson is going to stop by, and we’re hoping Mike Frerichs will come by. He has a fundraiser that evening, but hopefully he can come by our event as well. It will give them a chance to really see how strong our community is, if a lot of us show up to this event. I know I’ve changed my mind on many issues over time; most people do. And we can change politicians’ minds on certain issues by educating them.
SP: Has anyone else besides Jakobsson, Gill, and Meister confirmed that they’ll be there?
Hansen: Nothing definite. We’ve sent an invitation to Tim Johnson, but haven’t heard back from him yet. But we’ll keep you posted. Basically, we just want to get everyone in the same room. It feels good when the community comes together. When it comes to elections, that’s what it’s all about.