Dear Mayor Pete,
On June 28, 2019 the LGBTQ+ community acknowledged a milestone. Millions of people around the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the launch of the modern-day LGBT rights movement. Fifty years ago, with the hurling of a brick, people began to take a stand for a cause that they knew was just. They recognized they could be imprisoned, outed, and ousted from society, but they didn’t care. It took real courage to stand up.
One day prior, on June 27, 2019 history was made. The first openly gay candidate for president stepped onto a bright debate stage in Miami. He is a scholar and a veteran and just six months ago was a little-known mayor from a small town in Indiana. Now, he is a rising star in the party and a force to be reckoned with on the trail. He is married to an educated, articulate, and passionate school teacher. Together they represent an important face of America. It was a hugely significant moment.
However, the events that occurred nearly fifty years prior and set the stage for you to make a serious play for the nomination of a major party were mysteriously absent from the discussion on that bright debate stage. Our community was looking to you for answers. They were anxiously awaiting how your experience as an openly gay man would help shape and guide policy for minority communities around the country. And to be frank… you let us down.
It is important for all of us, from every walk of life, to speak our truth and stand up for ourselves and our communities in bold ways. Sometimes, we have the option to embrace it on our own. Sometimes, the spotlight is unexpectantly thrust upon us. When my dad, Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, started his run for the United States Senate, I had no idea the journey it would take us all on. I had my heart set on being a zookeeper and I wasn’t much interested in entangling myself with issues outside of conservation and animals. But life sometimes is about rolling with the punches and turning calculated risks into important opportunities. Growing up in a very red state, I could have never imagined standing up for my community so publicly. But now, I can’t imagine it any other way. If we can’t find the courage to publicly take a stand, how can we expect anyone else to do it for us?
I’m not asking you to wear your sexuality on your sleeve, but they’ve already labeled you the gay candidate. Now myself and my dad know how detrimental identity politics are. In Alabama, you are either Democrat or Republican, pro-guns or anti-guns, pro-life or anti-life, Christian or not. You are one thing or the other, when most times neither label is completely accurate. Identity politics have crippled our state and my dad is working hard to break that cycle. But in your case, our community needs you. We need more than the basic planks that have become apart of every Democratic candidate’s platform and more than simple acknowledgement of your place in our community. We need to understand how who you are shapes your approach to the issues that matter.
Embracing your husband is different than embracing our community and its history.
And honestly, right now, we need both. America needs the modern-day love story that your committed relationship portrays. And our community needs your outspoken and specific support on the issues that matter, whether that is the Equality Act or the disturbing pattern of violence against trans women of color. While I understand that marching in a Pride parade or attending a drag show doesn’t “play well” in many areas around the country, those areas are becoming fewer and further between. You are a true representation of modern-day America. But, those protesters at Stonewall didn’t stand so boldly for such an important cause so that the first openly gay candidate for president wouldn’t be an active participant in queer life.
Tonight, you’ll have the opportunity to walk onto another bright debate stage, this time in Detroit. You’ll once again be presented with an opportunity to start a national conversation not just about LGBTQ+ rights, but also women’s rights, and the rights of children in detention centers. Don’t call for a conversation. Force the conversation. Speak boldly. Speak passionately. Make it personal and speak from experience. Press others on specifics. Don’t accept canned vague responses. Stand up for those that can’t stand for themselves or those who haven’t yet found their voice to do so. Speak to those who are often forgotten during national dialogues and more importantly, once the debate is over, listen.
Every story, every experience, every adventure, escapade, heartbreak, and struggle shapes who we are. As president all of these pieces would shape your approach to policy, to leadership, and inevitably would leave some mark on our country as a whole. Tell us what mark your story would leave on our great nation and how people would be better off for it. Like those protesters at Stonewall, have courage Mr. Mayor. Our community and our country are counting on you.
Carson Jones is an activist, zookeeper, and the son of Senator Doug Jones. Follow Carson on Instagram @thedapperzookeeper.