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Stonewall Austin President featured on TCDP blog

posted Jan 25, 2012, 10:09 AM by Rich Bailey   [ updated Jan 25, 2012, 10:10 AM ]

Rich Bailey talks LGBT and activism!

January 23rd, 2012

A longtime leader of the Stonewall Democrats, both nationally and locally, Rich Bailey has been fighting for LGBT rights his entire adult life.

He grew up a military brat, bouncing around Europe in his youth, and followed his father into the Navy after graduating from high school. But in 1982, his military stint ended abruptly when he felt the full force of official discrimination.

“They asked, I told, so I got kicked out of the Navy,” Bailey says.

Winding up in Austin, Bailey became active with the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus, worked on several Democratic campaigns, was elected to the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee representing Senate District 14, became chief of staff for Mayor Will Wynn and now works in government relations for the City of Austin. He remains a force in the Stonewall Democrats, but has decided to make some changes.

QUESTION: You are stepping down as president of Stonewall Democrats Austin next month, and in December, you ended your tenure as Secretary of the National Stonewall Democrats PAC. Why?

BAILEY: My term with Austin’s Stonewall Democrats is up in February, and I’m not seeking reelection. It’s been 25 years that I’ve been in a leadership position with LGBT issues, and I just thought it was time to step back and let others get involved. I plan to stay active and engaged, but I need to take a leadership break.

QUESTION: Stonewall Democrats support policies to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. What are you concerned with most in the coming election?

BAILEY: That depends on whether you’re looking at the national, state or local picture. Austin is a fantastic city to live in as an openly LGBT person, and that’s both fortunate and unfortunate because we have to battle apathy quite a lot. Our City Council and legislative delegations are basically good on our issues, so it’s hard sometimes to get people motivated. When you look at the larger issues of the state, it’s not to good. We work with Equality Texas to help give support to other cities to make sure that we come together to pass good legislation for the LGBT community — and defeat the bad stuff.

QUESTION: How would you grade President Obama on LGBT issues?

BAILEY: He’s done a lot of good stuff, mostly Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And he’s been good at doing things in a less visible way for folks. As much as we want to assume that every Democrat is good on all of our issues, that’s just not the case. With issues like same-sex marriage, people have deeply held beliefs, so the best you can do is try to educate folks and make them understand what the real world ramifications are. The best way to advance your cause is to personalize it. When people know gay and lesbian people, they are less likely to discriminate or tolerate discrimination.

QUESTION: What goes through your mind when you hear some of the homophobic and hateful talk from the Republican presidential candidates now?

BAILEY: I have been a little surprised, mainly that they’re bringing it up again. Mitt Romney’s record is pretty moderate as a Republican, but it’s red-meat time in the primaries, so they’re all trying to out-do each other. It’s not enough to say you’re against same-sex marriage; you have to really be against it and go extreme to be noticed above the noise.

QUESTION: How do you feel about Governor Perry, whose campaign for President has collapsed, regarding LGBT issues?

BAILEY: Perry was never really anti-gay. He was a bad vote, but he didn’t make it an issue that he ran on. Over the years, you see the steady progression of the Republican Party moving to the right, so he had to dangle that red meat in front of them for his campaign.

QUESTION: A lot of Texans, including moderate Republicans and some independents, have been embarrassed by Perry’s national exposure.

BAILEY: I always try to look for the positive in things, and hopefully this will take a lot of the shine off his armor. During the next legislative session, people may be more reluctant to bow down to whatever the Governor wants. The budget cuts during the last session were so Draconian and widespread that everybody will feel the pain, and I think that will hurt Texas Republicans in this year’s elections.

QUESTION: Finally, do you have a message for gays and lesbians in Austin who are not politically involved? What can you tell them that might inspire them to get active?

BAILEY: That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? It’s one that, as president of the Stonewall Democrats, I have struggled with, as other club leaders have. It’s hard because people say, “But we’ve got it so good here in Austin!” So we have to ask people to look at their lives and decide if they want to improve their lives and the life of their community. If the answer is yes, they need to get involved. Get involved somehow. Be a part of the fabric of your community and make a difference.

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