Travis Shumake

Today’s young gay leaders represent the largest cultural shift in a generation. Here are six high achievers who aren’t hung up on their sexuality and are determined to make a difference

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 06 2005 12:00 AM ET

Late one Sunday,
Travis Shumake and a gay buddy went to brunch at the
gay-themed diner Hamburger Mary’s in Phoenix. There
are more gay people in the world? Travis thought. And
they have their own restaurant? I want to work here!
He walked up to the front counter, asked for a job, and was
hired on the spot as a host. He started two days later.
It was there that Travis was first introduced to
the larger gay world, but it wasn’t until he
started donating to the Human Rights Campaign and
attending its fund-raising dinners that he began to plug
himself into the network of Arizona’s gay
leadership. The state has an unusual penchant for
electing gay Republicans: Two of them, former Tempe mayor
Neil Giuliano and former state legislator Steve May,
take turns hosting regular Sunday night “family
dinners” to help mentor up-and-coming young gay
leaders. Travis, who jokes that he’s the only gay
Democrat in Arizona angling for public office, has
eagerly attended the dinners for years.
Giuliano, 48, says they discuss national
politics, gay history, breaking up honorably with a
boyfriend, how to establish oneself within a community
long before canvassing for votes—the kind of vital
guidance he never received when he was 20. He
sincerely believes that for Travis and other leaders
in his generation, being gay will be even less of a
roadblock to elective office than it is today. After saying
that, though, he pauses.
“Because things have been relatively easy
for them,” he says, “[and] they
haven’t faced any direct discrimination, perhaps they
don’t see themselves as being limited in terms
of careers—all that is very good. On the other
side, that makes them a little blind to the realities of the
discrimination that still does exist and the struggles that
have been made. There’s a lot of people who
have come before them who have made it possible for
them to be out and open and comfortable with themselves in
their teenage and college years.”
Indeed. The worst experience with discrimination
Travis says he’s ever faced came this spring,
when he ran for student body president at Northern
Arizona University, a school of 16,000 nestled in the
mountain city of Flagstaff, a liberal enclave in an
otherwise steadfastly conservative state.
A friend of one of Travis’s opponents
stood for an hour in a residence hall elevator, asking
students as they rode to and from class, “Who are
you voting for? You shouldn’t vote for Travis.
He’s gay.… You know that Travis kid?
He’s a faggot.” Later that day Travis called
the opponent; he remembers that his words tumbled out
fast and angry: “I’ve never done
anything slanderous toward you, and this is really hurting
me emotionally now.… My sexual orientation
shouldn’t be brought up.”

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