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When out actress and education activist Cynthia Nixon announced her primary run in the New York gubernatorial race against Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo earlier this week, the news was met with a flurry of praise, criticism, and internet memes. Some of the harshest criticism of the Tony- and Emmy-winner's political bid came via another high-profile out New Yorker, former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was still bitter about Nixon supporting her opponent Bill de Blasio during the 2013 New York mayoral race.
"Cynthia Nixon was opposed to having a qualified lesbian become mayor of New York City. Now she wants to be an unqualified lesbian to be the governor of New York. Being an actress and celebrity doesn't make you qualified for public office," Quinn said.
Online response to Quinn's statement was fast and furious, not just because Quinn called Nixon "unqualified," but because she bi-erased the actress. Quinn attempted to clarify her position in a series of tweets the following day, but by that time the term "unqualified lesbian" had become a meme and taken on a life of its own. Even Nixon, who identifies as bisexual, began pointedly saying "unqualified lesbian" to prove her ability to laugh at her critics and also to point out that one's sexuality has nothing to do with qualifications for office -- or does it?
"When I announced yesterday that I'm running for governor, one of Cuomo's top surrogates dismissed me as an 'unqualified lesbian,'" Nixon told the crowd that braved a snowstorm to attend her campaign kickoff party at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. "I just want to say tonight that she was technically right, that I don't have my certificate from the Department of Lesbian Affairs -- though, in my defense, there's a lot of paperwork required."
Jokes aside, Nixon, who rose to fame as part of the groundbreaking Sex and the City ensemble, is far from the least qualified celebrity to ever run for public office. She put in tireless work for De Blasio, who ran with a universal pre-kindergarten proposal that was dear to Nixon's heart. And she has a history of political activism and organizing around education and LGBT issues, reproductive rights, and women's health -- Nixon is also a breast cancer survivor. Considering all this, she may be one of the most well-informed, thoughtful celebrities, versed on an array of issues, who's ever run for office.
A mother and an ardent advocate for education, Nixon has been in the fight for the country's schools since the early 2000s, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed slashing budgets for New York City schools. And she's a spokeswoman for Alliance for Quality Education, "a coalition mobilizing communities across the state to keep New York true to its promise of ensuring a high-quality public education to all students regardless of zip code," as its website states.
Married to education and LGBT rights activist Christine Marinoni since 2012, Nixon lobbied hard for marriage equality in her home state and nationally. She spoke at the 2017 Women's March and has passionately stumped for Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights.
Americans are well aware of the celebrity who famously failed to win an Emmy and is currently running the country, the carnival barker-esque former host of The Apprentice, Donald Trump, but there are currently two other actresses running for office. One, Diane Neal, a registered Democrat who is best remembered for portraying Assistant D.A. Casey Novak on Law & Order: SVU for several seasons, is running for New York's 19th Congressional District seat. The other is Republican Stacey Dash, the ultraconservative star of Clueless, who is running for a congressional seat from California.
Many who voted for Trump in the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton, who'd served as frst lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State, touted his business background as a sign he was ready to serve in most esteemed position in the country. But 14 months' worth of White House staff turnover, gaffes with foreign emissaries, and what appears to be a blatant lack of understanding of how government works, and his background as a qualification for the presidency is debatable (in some circles). Still, voters should question and vet all who run for office, and Nixon is no exception. While the debate about whether Nixon is "qualified" rages on, here are several other celebrities from various backgrounds who've tossed their hats into the political ring with varying degrees of success or degradation.
The Star of a Teen Comedy Classic
A '90s star thanks to the success of Clueless, Stacey Dash has recently made waves as a conservative commentator, author, and offensive anti-LGBT button-pusher. Now the woman who said in 2016 that being transgender is a lifestyle choice and that trans people should "go in the bushes" if they need a public restroom is running as a Republican in California's 44th Congressional District, located in south Los Angeles.
More of Dash's greatest hits include calling for an end to BET and Black History Month, as well as her views on feminism.
"What we're doing is we're chipping away at what it is to be a woman and to be feminine," Dash has said. "And what it is to be a man and be masculine. We're chipping away at that. I wish we could go back to Mad Men days. I love those days. Men were men."
The Former Mr. Universe, Terminator, Kindergarten Cop
A native of Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the highest-paid action stars in Hollywood when he ran for governor of California in a recall election in 2003. After appearing in an antidrug campaign during Ronald Reagan's presidency, Schwarzenegger stumped for George H.W. Bush at a campaign rally in 1988. Bush then made the star of The Terminator chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1990 to 1993. The star of True Lies and Predator was elected governor amid a sexual harassment scandal and went on to serve from 2003 to 2011, but was widely viewed as unsuccessful. His successor, Jerry Brown, managed to pull the state's enormous economy out of the red.
The Radio Star, the Gipper, and the Actor Best Known for Costarring With a Chimp
A radio announcer and actor who appeared in films like Dark Victory with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan is best known for playing "the Gipper" in Knute Rockne: All American and for ceding screentime to a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo. Originally a Democrat, Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild for a time in the 1940s, but turned conservative and testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on the subject of communists in Hollywood. He was the Republican governor of California from 1967 to 1975.
In 1976 he mounted a failed run for the presidency against incumbent Gerald Ford and lost. But he ran again and won in 1980 and 1984 during the discovery and rise of the AIDS epidemic. Reagan was one of the more experienced celebrities to run for office, but whether he was a success is debatable. For many conservatives, he was the gold standard politician; for those paying attention to or affected by AIDS, he was the president whose homophobia was so virulent that he refused to acknowledge and say "AIDS" publicly until 1985, when thousands had died and tens of thousands more had been infected. Reagan was also consumed with the Iran-Contra scandal and is often blamed for slashing public services and contributing to the homeless and mental health epidemic.
The Two-Time Oscar-Winner Currently Starring on Broadway
Two-time Oscar-winner -- for A Touch of Class and Women in Love -- Glenda Jackson has only recently gone back to acting after serving successfully in Britain's Parliament for 23 years, proving that celebrities running for office is not merely an American conceit. The 81-year-old has just returned to Broadway to costar in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women with Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill, but she's been busy since her heyday of acting in the 1970s, beginning with her election to the House of Commons in 1992. Jackson became Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate (sections of London) and was an outspoken critic of Tony Blair during his tenure as prime minister. She retired from Parliament in 2015.
The Pummeler and Homophobe
Boxer Manny Pacquiao was elected to the Philippines' House of Representatives in 2010, then won a second term before running for senator and winning in 2016 despite the perception that his work as a congressman didn't pack the same punch as his moves in the ring. For several years in office, he failed to push any bills through, and there was one year when he was present in Congress for a mere four days. Still, as a wealthy man with some boxing money to give away, he shared his riches with his constituents, presumably helping to get him elected repeatedly.
Pacquiao is known in LGBT circles for being a virulent homophobe. He infamously compared LGBT people to animals, and then, after losing a Nike endorsement deal over the comments, said that queer people should be put to death.
"If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death, their blood will be on their own heads," Pacquiao posted on social media, quoting Leviticus 20:13.
The Comic and Author Who Became Stuart Smalley Before Being Felled by #MeToo
Comic and Saturday Night Live alumnus Al Franken was known for decades as one of his SNL personas, the affirmational Stuart Smalley, before running for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Minnesota. He served from 2009 to 2018, when he resigned amid a barrage of sexual harassment allegations. A liberal darling, Franken was a strong proponent of single-payer health care who had a habit of holding Republican politicians' feet to the fire on Capitol Hill; he was, at one time, viewed as a possible 2020 presidential candidate. He resigned under pressure from fellow Democratic senators after several women accused him of varying degrees of sexual harassment over the years.
The Navy Seal, Harley Enthusisast, and Pro Wrestler
A Navy Seal and motorcycle club member turned professional wrestler, Jesse "the Body" Ventura ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and won. He served as mayor from 1991 - 95 before successfully running for governor in that state in 1998 and serving until 2002. Self-described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, Ventura was vocal about his support of marriage equality and for putting an end to "don't ask, don't tell."
The Hotel Mogul, Reality Star, Steak Purveyor, and "Pussy" Grabber
Whether or not the reality star and part-time actor was qualified to run the country when there was a woman running who had more experience than perhaps any candidate in history is in the eye of the beholder. A businessman who'd filed for bankruptcy six times, and a self-confessed ladies' man on his third marriage, Trump never let his lack of qualifications stop him before. Just ask anyone who ever chowed on a Trump Steak or attended Trump University. As those who supported him and said that the country should "give him a chance" know, qualifications aren't everything, but a willingness to learn sure is.