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Politics hasn’t always been Hollywood for ugly people. King Edward II of England, for example, was called "Tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man” and "fair of body and great of strength" by historians who knew him. Edward’s relationship with Piers Gaveston, who was also described as handsome and athletic, however, led to ruin for both men.
Edward’s wife Isabella was a French princess. His fondness for Gaveston so angered her that she raised an army in her homeland and invaded England, earning the nickname the She-Wolf of France. She had the help of powerful nobles who were also bitterly resentful of how much Edward favored Gaveston. Edward was forced to exile Gaveston but soon welcomed him back. Not long after, jealous nobles hunted Gaveston down and killed him. Edward suffered a similar fate. He was forced to surrender his crown and died in captivity. He was probably assassinated.
Edward was reviled as a villain by his enemies, but he lives on as a tragic hero in two works: Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play Edward II and Derek Jarman’s1991 film of the same title. Edward and Galveston also appear as gay stereotypes in the 1995 Mel Gibson movie Braveheart.
Some historians have argued that Edward and Gaveston were not necessarily lovers but perhaps very close brothers in arms. (Their depiction of Braveheart as incompetent soldiers is not historically accurate.) Whether they were literal or merely political bedfellows, however, they were not the first or last leaders who were gay or rumored to be. Here are some more contemporary gay heroes and villains of politics, starting with the villains.
After being arrested by an undercover police officer on June 11, 2007, for toe-tapping in an airport bathroom, Larry Craig said: “I am not gay. I never have been gay.” He blamed the arrest on a misunderstanding, saying that his foot crossed over into the other stall because “I have a wide stance.”
Other men, however, offered accounts of their sexual encounters with Craig before the airport incident. After announcing his intention to resign from the U.S. Senate, where he had advocated anti-gay legislation, he changed his mind and served out his term but did not run for re-election. He was forced to pay the U.S. government more than $200,000 after it was revealed that he had used campaign contributions to pay legal bills stemming from the arrest.
Ernst Röhm, a Nazi, founded the SA, or Stormtroopers. His face was disfigured by an injury sustained in World War I. He once said: “War and unrest appeal to me more than good bourgeois order. Brutality is respected; the people need wholesome fear. They want to fear someone. They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive.”
Because he took the active role in bed, he saw no contradiction in being Nazi and gay. Until 1934, Röhm was one of Hitler’s most trusted officers, so much so that he dared to tease the Führer. In the night of the long knives, he was arrested, placed in a cell, and offered a gun with which to kill himself. He refused and was shot dead.
Randy Boehning (it’s OK to say his name and giggle immaturely) still serves in the North Dakota House of Representatives, where he voted against gay rights legislation. In 2015, when he was in his early 50s, he sent an unsolicited dick pic to a 21-year-old man on Grindr. The younger man recognized and outed him. Boehning has since acknowledged his attraction to men (and women) but has never apologized for his haircut.
Conservative Republican Wesley Goodman served in the Ohio House of Representatives, where he advocated for “traditional marriage” like the one he had with his wife. He resigned his post after being accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man and of other, similar acts. He was also caught having consensual sex with another man in his office.
When it comes to being evil, few top attorney Roy Cohn, who fiercely denied that he was gay even as he was dying of AIDS. Portrayed as a bitter hypocrite in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Cohn was a political adviser to Senator Joseph McCarthy, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Nixon, and Donald Trump.
As an aide to McCarthy during the Senator’s infamous witch hunt for communist agents, Cohn claimed that there were closeted homosexuals working for the U.S. government who had been blackmailed into spying for the Soviet Union. There was no evidence for this claim, but gay men were a convenient scapegoat, and Cohn saw to it that gay men working for the government were outed and fired. Toward the end of his miserable life, Cohn was disbarred for perjury and witness tampering.
A Jewish Italian Congressman from Rhode Island, David Cicilline was the first openly gay mayor of an American state capital, Providence. Like Polis, he is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. He has advocated for gun safety, internet freedom, bringing soldiers home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and human rights. He has sponsored legislation to protect the environment and the rights of LGBT Americans. He has also worked to reform campaign finance and voter registration laws.
Although Cicilline’s brother has been accused of corruption, Cicilline himself has been lauded as an honest politician.
U.S. Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado is openly gay and a member of the House’s LGBT Equality Caucus. Personally very wealthy, he created a foundation that has created many schools, given awards to teachers, and provided computers for classrooms. He has won numerous awards in recognition of his philanthropy.
As a politician, he has advocated for progressive reform in the areas of campaign finance, drug policy, food policy, immigration, and LGBT rights. He has opposed fracking and championed civil liberties and net neutrality. He and his partner have two children. He is currently running for governor of Colorado.
A Congressman from New York, Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, who is handsome, married his partner Randy Gene Florke (also handsome and a successful businessman) in 2014. They have been together since 1992 and have three adopted children. According to OutSmart magazine, “Florke proposed in December after the youngest of their three children wrote to Santa wishing for her parents to be married.”Daaaw!
In Congress, Maloney has supported reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and enforcing anti-discrimination laws in schools and the workplace. He is a strong supporter of net neutrality. He introduced legislation to help veterans by reducing red tape and to reform healthcare law. Prior to entering politics, Maloney worked as a lawyer. One of his clients was the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
He is reported to be in the running for attorney general of New York state. If elected, he plans to go on the offensive against Donald Trump.
A former diving instructor for the U.S. Navy, a public schoolteacher, an investment banker, Harvey Milk moved in 1972 to San Francisco and invested his last $1,000 in a camera shop on Castro Street in San Francisco. The shop soon became a hub of political activism in one of the country’s most famous gay neighborhoods.
After several failed attempts at running for a seat on the San Francisco’s city-county board of supervisors, the “mayor of Castro Street” won in 1977. The American Psychiatric Association had stopped labeling homosexuality a mental illness only three years before. He was the first openly gay man to serve as an elected official in San Francisco.
As a politician, he advocated for the creation of a civilian police review board in response to complaints in the gay community of police harassment. He also advocated for maintaining affordable housing in a city famous for ever-rising rents and home prices.
Milk’s frequent opponent on the board was Dan White, a veteran and former police officer who was uncomfortable with the rising political force of gay people in San Francisco. White quit the board in 1978, saying that his salary as a supervisor was not enough to support his family. He changed his mind, however, and asked Mayor George Moscone for his job back. Moscone refused. White returned to city hall with a gun and shot Moscone and Milk to death. After a controversial trial, White was convicted only of manslaughter. The verdict sparked a riot. Soon after his release from prison, White committed suicide.
Milk has been lauded as the country’s first openly gay politician, as a hero, and a martyr. A movie about his life starring Sean Penn was released in 2008.
What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to make the world to be a better place. There are school boards, neighborhood councils, and city councils that need gay men to be heroes.
One of the most important things to remember are the November mid-term elections. While they're not as flashy or loud as the presidential primaries but they hold incredible political weight. All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. This means that the power of congressional seats is in your hands-- to get out and vote for the representative that will be speaking on your behalf in Congress. You have the power to impact incredible change. The best part?
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