January 23rd, 2012
A longtime leader of the Stonewall Democrats, both nationally
and locally, Rich Bailey has been fighting for LGBT rights his entire
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
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?
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
QUESTION: What goes through your mind when you hear
some of the homophobic and hateful talk from the Republican presidential
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
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
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.