Out With the Old



 “People are more interested in hearing how you’re going to create jobs” than discussing sexual orientation, Pougnet says. “Obviously, [constituent frustration] is an opportunity for gay candidates, but you still have to explain how you’re going to make a better congressman.”

Bryce Bennett, a gay 25-year-old seeking a seat in Montana’s house of representatives, hopes his promise to create jobs and fight pollution wins voters over. Bennett captured the Democratic primary for the relatively liberal district around Missoula, giving him a good shot of taking the seat of retiring congressman Robin Hamilton. Like Washington and Pougnet, the University of Montana graduate has been endorsed by the Victory Fund, the D.C.-based group that works to elect gay candidates to office.

“Being young and gay isn’t helping or hurting the campaign,” Bennett says. “Everyone I talk to tells me they want a legislator who will roll up their sleeves and deliver.”

Optimism may be a political requirement for candidates, but both Szekeres and Denis Dison, the communications vice president for the Victory Fund, sound a more cautious note.

“Sexual orientation is still an issue in many places,” Dison says. Szekeres adds, “Many parts of America are still homophobic and not ready to elect an out candidate.”

Progressive areas like Baltimore and Missoula offer the best chances for gay political newcomers to succeed in November. Bennett is banking on not only the frustration of his potential constituents but their open-mindedness.

“Montana had the first woman in Congress, and we’re one of the few states to pass medical marijuana laws,” Bennett says. “We’re a live-and-let-live kind of place.”

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