OPINION: My historic run as the first openly gay major-party candidate for U.S. President

by Fred Karger | Rights Equal Rights
Wednesday, 5 August 2020 08:48 GMT

Fred Karger at the Des Moines Register Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair in August 2011. Handout courtesy of Fred Karger

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Fred Karger competed in the Republican Primaries for the 2012 U.S. presidential election

Fred Karger is a political activist and president of Rights Equal Rights

I was the first openly gay major-party candidate to run for president of the United States when I competed in the Republican Primaries eight years ago. Fred Who, you ask?

I was one of the 11 leading GOP candidates running for the nomination and I campaigned full time all over the U.S. for two and half years.

I was the only moderate, pro-choice, anti-war, pro-marijuana, full equality candidate running in either party. My belief system is more like the Republican party of old, before it was destroyed by the current U.S. President, Donald Trump, and the far right.

Our campaign’s goal from day one was to get into just one presidential debate. If that were to happen and I did well in a very mediocre field of candidates, then anything would be possible.

Sadly, even though I qualified for the third debate hosted by Fox News in Ames, Iowa on August 11, 2011, I was not able to participate due to a disagreement with the TV network over polling data.

I appeared on six state ballots. I was welcomed with open arms by the Republican leadership from Reince Priebus, the GOP chairman on down. I was shunned by several of the far right-wing third-party groups as well as the vast majority of LGBT+ leadership and their organizations.

I received death threats and lots of hate mail.

My support came mostly from independents, younger people and especially LGBT+ youth, exactly the demographic I ran for. My message to the LGBT+ community was that there were no longer any limits on what you could do in life.

You can even run for president.

I spent most of my time in the two early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa. I got more votes than Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in New Hampshire and beat Congressman Ron Paul in the Puerto Rico primary. We did all the things that the bigger campaigns did, but on a shoestring budget.

We aired 20 fun, slick, upbeat commercials, many of which went viral including “Sexy Frisbee” featuring the first gay kiss in a presidential campaign commercial. YouTube took it down. We got it put back up.

It was the thrill of a lifetime. I had always wanted to run for office but thought I never could.

When I came out publicly in 2008 working to defeat California’s Prop 8, which enshrined marriage as only between a man and a woman in the state constitution, by publicly shaming most of the big donor opponents of marriage equality, there was then nothing holding me back.

After working as a political consultant for more than 35 years, I was finally able to run for office. At 60, I didn’t have a lot of time to work my way up, so I started at the top.

I wanted to emulate Shirley Chisholm, who ran as the first Black American candidate for president in 1972, now immortalized in the current Netflix series, “Mrs. America”. She paved the way for Rev. Jesse Jackson and President Obama. I wanted to do the same thing for other LGBT+ candidates who would follow me.

I often wondered who that would be.

Much to my surprise Mayor Pete Buttigieg came to the rescue. I met Pete in Brooklyn in February 2019 and immediately endorsed him, contributed to his exploratory committee and soon became one of his campaign’s biggest fundraisers.

He was truly a remarkable candidate, who will likely run again.

The November election in just three months is the most consequential in my lifetime. Where will we head? How will we respond to the global pandemic? And how will we recover?

I hope that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor COVID-19 will dissuade the voters from casting their ballots and righting the ship before it’s too late.

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