C.M-S: Who is Dr. Swan?
Dr. Swan: I
am currently the President of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate
and Taxation and an elected openly gay official in Minneapolis,
Minnesota. I lived in the suburb with my now ex-wife and two children
- and was very active in the Democratic Party there. Then I met
Lyle and we got married at the March on Washington. We were the
first gay male partners on the city register of domestic partner
in Minneapolis. ...
What does a board with this grand name do?
We get questions about whether political officials have
spent the money properly - We also set the maximum level at which
the property tax can be levied. We might set it at zero to 3% and
they are constrained by our decision. It must be the same or lower
than our decision. It's a separate check on the city council's ability
to set the property tax which pays for most of the activities of
the city of Minneapolis.
How did you get to be head of this board?
Dr. Swan: Our
city is predominantly Democratic Party. I ran along with a team
and was endorsed by the Democratic Convention. I had been very active
in the gay and lesbian caucus - as well as the feminist caucus,
- and I worked with the Afro-American groups, and most other racial-ethnic
minority groups in the city. My goal was to build a majority from
the minorities. Four years ago I ran for the Board of Estimate and
Taxation and got 33,000 votes - in second place.
How did you get involved in the Democratic Party?
Dr. Swan: My
involvement in the Democratic Party (DP) predates my involvement
as an openly gay person. I helped to revive a DP state-wide gay
and lesbian caucus and after that at the city level and helped to
start a GLDBT - called the Brian Call caucus. ... As I got involved
in the Democratic gay & lesbian activities, that's when I started
to be interested in running for office.
Minnesota has three other openly gay officials and I'm the fourth
- for the state of Minnesota. There is a total of about 80 openly
gay & lesbian elected officials in the US. There are 450,000
elected officials in the US. So that gives an idea of the proportions.
In the last elections all of the incumbent openly gay & lesbian
elected officials in the US – those who ran for office again - were
re-elected. About 3/4 Of those who ran were elected - so we added
another 15 to 20 people this November. We were really quite successful
C.M-S.: What's life like
for people in the state of Minnesota - for gays & lesbians?
Dr. Swan: The
state of Minnesota is one of nine states in the US that has a sexual
orientation protection law built into the states Human Rights Acts
as do Massachusets, Connecticut, and Wisconsin - in a sense they
have a different environment than other states. Typically in the
US a high proportion of the gays & lesbians have moved to the
cities. In our state most of the people moved to Minneapolis, but
then St. Paul also had such a law so there is also a large gay &
lesbian community there. There are other groups around the state
- there is the City of Rochester which is quite a conservative city
- but has a good strong gay movement. I think the passage of that
law has made people feel safer and more willing to be open. Before
they were very afraid - many of us were.
In South there are particularly big problems aren't there?
Dr. Swan: It
depends on where you are in the South. There are strong gay communities
in Orlando, and in Florida, and in Atlanta, and especially in New
Orleans. We were recently in Atlanta at the Gay Pride Parade there.
But the conservative areas in the US are in the south and the mountain
states - Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, - but still they have strong
Television and Internet and so on, have the potential to link together
people who have been very isolated. People at a young age who recognise
themselves as gay will connect themselves with an organisation -
which didn't use to happen. We still remember what it was like when
there was nothing. It wasn't even talked about.
You have in certain areas a backlash in connection with
Clinton - such as the Defense of Marriage Act.
Dr. Swan: This is the topic
of the book which I just sent to the publishers - this cultural
struggle – a struggle that as I see it has four prongs to it. The
one is the issue of education. We started with G&L movements
in colleges & universities - and now its moved into the kindergarten
to 12 sphere, - where it is extremely controversial. (2) The second
area is the issue of justice - the anti-discrimination statutes,
criminal justice interventions workplace efforts.... Characteristic
of Minnesota is that we have workplace groups in an enormous number
and range of corporations and business and government agencies.
There are over 50 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Large corporations
like Tilsbury Grand Metropolitan, and there's a group in the Post
Office. But right-wing people have started to boycott the corporations
which allow support for gay and lesbian people. So we've got a battle
going on - in education, in discrimination issues, (and workplace
policies.) And the final prong of this cultural struggle is in relationships.
We have around 30 government agencies in the US which grant domestic
partnership benefits to their employees. The number of businesses
that provide domestic partners benefits is well into the hundreds.
Again the right wing has found out and started boycotts and attacks
on those companies.
Then there is the Hawaii case - the Baeke versus Mieke Case. That
is the case where a couple wanted to be married in the state of
Hawaii. It was passed to a lower court with the Supreme Court decision
that unless there was some compelling state interest that would
forbid this granting of a marriage licence it should be done....
I'm told by a lawyer friend in Hawaii that it will probably go back
to the Supreme Court. It will be a long and contorted process, but
the odds are good that there will be a 4 to 1 vote in our favour.
This triggered attacks in 11 states and in 16 they have passed laws
prohibiting the reciprocal recognition of marriages from such states.
What we'll probably have to do is go to the US Supreme Court - because
under the 4th Amendment to the constitution you should be able to
recognise a contract in one state and reciprocally recognise it
in another. But we'll probably have to fight from state to state.
So we've got a cultural struggle going on really a wide range of
fronts in the US.
Is the backlash so clearly rightwing fundamentalist Christian,
or is it political?
Dr. Swan: It
depends of the issue. If you are talking about gay marriages for
instance it is very clear that right-wing fundamentalist religious
groups are opposed to it, but you also have to point out that only
28 per cent of the American people support the idea of gay marriages.
So it is not just the religious right. At this point in time it
is the preponderant majority of the American people. But this is
the first time that the issue has been on the political agenda in
the US. ... Sometimes in public policy things are voted on three
or four times before you get a positive result in the interests
of the group that wants it adopted. In agriculture it might take
five times before you get a vote in favour of a crop subsidy. This
is the first time the public has ever seriously looked at it, but
it is going to take a lot of persuading. And a lot of gay &
lesbian people are not ecstatic about the idea of same-sex marriage
- they would rather have domestic partners benefits. I see it as
We are much further along the road in the US as employment non-discrimination
as a federal guarantee - what's known as the Employment Non Discrimination
Act (ENDA) we missed getting that adopted by one vote in the Senate.
We would not have got it through the House of Representatives, but
just getting the Senate of the US to come very close to adopting
it means we have a lot more support there than we have on same-sex
marriage where we only got 21 votes in the House of Representatives
- out of 435 ! The level of public support is much higher for non-discrimination,
so our national organisations have tried to focus on things where
we have a chance of winning. And at least 70% of the US people
support employment non-discrimination so it makes it much more palatable
to a politician.
C.M-S: Will Clinton's re-election
bring anything concrete for US gays and lesbians?
If Clinton had lost we would have lost all of the openly
gay and lesbian people in appointed positions; we would have lost
our initiatives on HIV; we would have lost the hate-crimes efforts;
we would have lost all of the work of cabinet officers on gay and
lesbian issues. Bob Dole has never voted positively on a gay and
lesbian issue in Congress. For the first time the Democratic National
Committee had a gay and lesbian Liaison Officer, and a group working
with local groups trying to mobilise gay and lesbian support in
the cities. We are a big piece of the Clinton victory.
The Clinton Administration tended to be reasonably supportive of
gay and lesbian issues. They've done a lot of positive things and
also a few negative ones that have caught our attention - like
the President signing the Defence of Marriage Act at 12.50 in the
morning! Then there was the gays in the military battle. Those have
been negatives - but there has also been a lot of positives from
the Clinton Administration. They have been very supportive of funding
for HIV and AIDS issues. They have hired many openly gay and lesbian
appointed officials. They have worked on hate-crime reporting statistics.
But typically the negatives are the ones which catch our attention
and of course we are pounding away to try and change those as well.
The most important thing is that the gay and lesbian movement in
the US is very diverse yet it incorporates groups - for instance
in Minnesota - which was the first to pass a sexual orientation
law that included gay and lesbian, bi, and transgender persons.
We see that as very important that we have a law on the books that
protects the rights of all sexual minorities. Increasingly people
are coming to terms with including racial and ethnic groups within
the gay and lesbian movement. As in the past - as perhaps in other
countries - the has been an emphasis on gay men spearheading the
movement. But in our state especially the close collaboration between
gay and lesbian, bi and transgender groups and increasingly involving
racial and ethnic minorities which are glbt. That has been a real
struggle. What has happened in the last five years is that we are
working closely with racial and ethnic minorities - African-American,
Hispanic, Native American. The GL Action Council in the twin cities
St. Paul & Minneapolis has been wonderful. It has empowered
those groups and working with the political movements has made
a lot of progress of inclusiveness, between the different groups.
That would be my message - the importance of inclusion and collaboration
between different groups.
Colin de la Motte-Sherman