The Daily Gamecock

DNC Vice Chair visits USC

Openly gay politician sits down with The Daily Gamecock

Congressman Raymond Buckley is the first openly gay president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs. He also serves on the New Hampshire Democratic Party and as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. Buckley will be sharing his story and viewpoints as a gay politician tonight at 8 p.m. in Sloan College room 112. Monday, he sat down for a Q & A interview with The Daily Gamecock.

The Daily Gamecock: How old were you when you became involved in politics?

Raymond Buckley: I had an amazing second grade teacher, and in February of 1967 we were studying Abraham Lincoln. During that month we heard about the issue of slavery, which blew my mind as a 7-year-old because I couldn’t understand. I was able to process that my great-grandparents who were my friends in Detroit were owned as if they were property. At the end of that month, a bell just went off saying that bad things happen if you don’t get involved. The next year, a guy was walking door-to-door running for governor. I said, “Do you need any help?” That was the gubernatorial campaign of 1968, his name was Vin Dunn, tall and craggly looking much like Abe Lincoln, and I’ve never missed an election since. If I had not been in that classroom with that particular teacher who was able to bring that all alive to my 7-year-old mind, I never would’ve been here.

TDG: What are a few major things you’d like to change about our country?

RB: Obviously the issue of equality was a driving force for me ­— the issue that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity and given the opportunity to have the very best life that they can. Supporting public education is crucial, making sure there is a clean and safe environment. We had a situation where children in lower income areas were chewing the lead paint off the windowsills, and it was a major issue for landlords to repaint everything. It’s something I can’t understand, because the lead caused a high number of special needs children, from whom the state would have to pay to educate and care for for the rest of eternity.

TDG: What are main issues in LGBTQ community that you focus on?

RB: Well, we’re all done here in New Hampshire. Everything that can be passed has been passed, but if you had told me that as a teenager, not only would I never believe that we could have marriage equality in my state, I never would’ve imagined it. It wasn’t even something that I said ‘Oh at some point in my life gay people are going to be able to marry each other.’ It’s just something that never occurred to me that it would ever happen in the future. I sponsored the law to appeal the prohibition of gays being able to adopt and become foster parents, and we passed civil unions, and then marriage equality. We were the first state to pass marriage equality without going to court, and we’re very proud of that. We were also one of the first states to pass very tough anti-bullying laws, which I also sponsored and I’m very proud of that. I feel very confident that marriage equality will be across the country within 15 years. It’s happening so quickly, and the public is moving so quickly in support of it.

TDG: Because South Carolina has a voted upon constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, how difficult do you expect the fight for the legalization of gay marriage to be?
RB: Once you realize what gay marriage is not, it become much easier for people to accept. Once people see that it’s not an attack on marriage or your culture or anything, it’s going to be much easier to legalize gay marriage across the board. I think it’s 34 states that (have) constitutional amendments like South Carolina, and I don’t think that a successful fight is going to be tomorrow here, but I think it will happen before 20 years is up. The population is moving so quickly that the issue will be put on the ballot and it will be put on to repeal.

TDG: How are you received in the political world because of your sexual orientation?

RB: I served in the New Hampshire legislature for 18 years, and I do not have a memory of a single instance of anyone directing anything to my face or to someone else that was ever reported back to me in any way. I think that 30 or 40 years ago when I first started thinking about becoming seriously involved in politics I was very frightened because I knew that gays were not welcome because it was a controversial thing in people’s minds during the ’70s. I was elected to county chair at 18, which I still can’t quite understand ... I didn’t even run for the position. I’ve never felt that. In all my years campaigning there’s only one time a voter wouldn’t shake my hand ... She said “I don’t approve of your lifestyle,” and I just said “OK” and I walked on. You can’t have them all, you know. A lot of what other folks have had to deal with, with signs being written on and stuff like that, I’ve never had a problem with ... I’ve had to meet with many Republican leaders and I’ve never had someone say “Oh God, there’s the gay guy.” It was more like “Oh God, there’s the guy that is able convince us to do things we don’t want to do.”

TDG: What advice can you give for young adults in the LGBTQ community who are interested in going into politics?

RB: The most important thing is to come out. My argument would be to any person who has discovered they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender that they need to come out to their family. Holding that lie and creating that double lie eats at your soul. One of the things that we believe did make us successful in New Hampshire is because so many people did come out. Suddenly people realize, “Oh, my nephew is gay,” or “Oh, my cousin is a lesbian.” There wasn’t an organized effort, it just seemed to happen, and people started realizing they know a lot of folks who are gay. People start thinking “I can’t vote for this bad piece of legislation that could hurt my friends.” Even the rough old WWII vets I’ve worked with in my career will say they don’t care what I do in my personal life because they know me. In general, all young people should get involved. Everyone should feel that their voice matters and their vote matters, and you should never let anyone tell you it doesn’t. As an American it’s your duty.

TDG: As a representative of the Democratic Party, do you have any comment on the Republican Party’s stance on gay political issues?

RB: Over the last couple decades, [gay rights has] always been a Democratic-led effort. Used to be it was very, very infrequent that a Republican would stand up for gay legislation, but I think that’s changing. If it was not for the eight Republican senators in New York, that state would not have marriage equality. I think that they’re moving. The Tea Party has made it a little different, because they tend to be more conservative about social ­— not just fiscal — issues. It’s disappointing to see folks like Mitt Romney who, when he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, promised to be more pro-gay than Kennedy in the Senate. Now, there’s not a single gay law or legislation that Romney supports. I know that’s something that frustrates people about politics but you can’t let it. You just have to keep moving forward.