openly gay freshman
Representative Jared Polis
is the first openly gay male elected to Congress
as a freshman. He is a co-chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus, and a
member of numerous House committees and
subcommittees. While attending
he began founding highly successful business
ventures. He first ran for and won a seat on the Colorado State Board of Education in 2000
and served as the youngest chairman in the
history of the Board. He
founded two innovative charter schools to help
meet the needs of Colorado’s underserved
students. In 2004, seeing the difficulty faced
by older immigrant youth in mainstream public
schools, he established and served as the
superintendent of the New America School.
We interviewed him on
May 4th, 2009; congratulated him on his victory in the
election last November, and asked him how he is
supporting efforts at progress on gay rights
Gay Military Signal: Many people view you as a
new gay hero, having run as an openly gay
candidate, winning, and starting out in Congress
advocating rights issues right from the start.
What motivated you and what did you experience
running as a gay candidate?
Jared Polis: I was civically active for a
number of years. I was on the State Board
of Education and was a superintendent of a
school for new immigrants. The
situation arose, when Congressman Mark Udall ran
for the Senate, the seat was open. And a lot of
the issues I cared most about need to be
addressed at the federal level. That is:
improving our education system, the war in Iraq,
and working to make health care more affordable
for American families. That is really
what drove me to run.
GMS: Did your encounter any discrimination
running for office as a gay person?
JP: No. I think people in our typical
suburban district care about getting the economy
going, creating jobs, the housing crisis,
health care; they want to elect somebody and get
things done. They don't really care about
the race, or gender, or sexual orientation of
GMS: Is there an LGBT Caucus or something
like that in the House?
JP: We have an Equality Caucus with a dozen
members which Tammy (Baldwin), Barney (Frank)
and I co-chair, with many members who are
committed to a full equality agenda.
GMS: Could you comment on your support for
repealing the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy via
the Military Readiness Enhancement Act?
JP: I think it's a policy that weakens our
military. It opens our men and women who serve
to possible blackmail, it destroys unit
cohesion; and it puts American lives in jeopardy
by not fielding our best.
GMS: Some view allowing open gay
service as a matter of fairness while others see
it as a matter of readiness, or both; what is
JP: As an institution the military is
not designed to promote fairness. (For example)
they have physical fitness and age requirements.
It's an institution designed to defend our
country. By kicking out gay and lesbian service
members we are weakening our ability to have
a strong military and defend our country.
GMS: Currently, allowing transgender American
volunteers to serve is not even on the table;
yet many of our allied countries allow
transgender service; what is your view on this
JP: Anyone who meets the physical (and
other) requirements should be able to serve.
Just because they were a different gender
previously should not keep them from serving.
There probably are transgender people serving,
but not openly, I presume.
GMS: Oh indeed there are, since the Civil
War. Even Israel allows such service.
JP: Well, yes, they are smart about defense,
they realize that they need every capable body.
GMS: What about partner benefits?
Do you believe that openly gay and lesbian
troops should have the same benefits as others?
JP: Of course, gay and lesbian members of our
military should have the same consideration for
benefits as their straight counterparts.
GMS: Imagine two American soldiers shot
side by side where one's spouse is getting all
sorts of support and benefits while the other's
partner is left out in the cold?
JP: Well, we actually don't have domestic
partner benefits for federal employees in any
category in that regard. In fact, I don't
get them for my partner as a Congressman.
We are of course working to change that, but it
has not passed yet.
GMS: In the past few months you have spoken
out valiantly about the plight of gay Iraqis who
are suffering a virtual genocide. Could
you tell us about that?
JP: There has been a rise in anti-gay
violence in Iraq and the security forces have
been, at best, turning a blind eye to it.
There have even been allegations that some security forces may
be involved in some of the violence including
killing, imprisonment and torture. We have
been raising the issue to protect gay Iraqis
through diplomatic channels. We sent a letter to
the charge d'affaires at the embassy in Baghdad;
we had conversations with the head Human Rights at the Department of State
to get our government engaged to include this
issue in our broad support of human rights in
Iraq and using the leverage that we have with
the Iraqi government to make sure that they
protect all their citizens. There is some
sympathy within the Iraqi government as well;
I've spoken with the Chairwoman of the Iraqi
Human Rights Committee of the parliament, the US
Ambassador Karen Stuart the head of the Human
Rights Division of the Department of State, and
met with the Human Rights Minister of
Iraq. They are certainly sympathetic and
want to work with us to make sure the government
is not complicit in these activities.
GMS: Is there a plan to rescue these
JP: Several gay Iraqis have successfully
fled; a number of them are in refugee camps.
Our office is working with them trying to
facilitate asylum and resettlement. At
this point I would encourage gay Iraqis who are
under the threat of death to flee. There
NGOs, one called Iraqi LGBT working out of England,
that help with safe houses and are currently
assisting people to flee Iraq. There are
several other NGOs doing work in that area.
GMS: Are our own
American troops doing anything to assist in this
situation? As one of those who volunteered
during Vietnam, and we have gay American troops
in Iraq now, imagine our frustration at having
to serve in silence and also not even be able to
help gay Iraqis from being horribly murdered.
JP: It's not part of the
(military) mission nor any other part of human
rights considerations. Ironically the human
rights condition for gays in Iraq has
deteriorated considerably from their experience
under Sadam Hussien.
GMS: What are your priorities, especially
regarding gay rights?
The next major equality issue that will be
taken up in the US Congress in the coming
months is ENDA and we are supporting full
inclusiveness. We passed the Hate Crimes
Law last week.
GMS: And the repeal of DADT?:
JP: I think that President Obama must
step up and honor his campaign pledge and work
with Secretary Gates to end this ridiculous
policy that weakens our military. We are a
co-sponsor of the bill.
2009 Gay Military Signal