Evelyn Mantilla, Connecticut, 1998
Evelyn C. Mantilla (D)
Born February 16, 1963
State Representative, 4th District
Deputy Majority Leader
Elected February 1997
Came out in June 1997
Re-elected 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004
Essay by Evelyn Mantilla for Out and Elected in the USA
Although we had know each other for two years, it was the night of the announcement of my first campaign that we began our romantic journey. I was not out and Babette was the campaign manager for a State Representative in another district, so we began to date under somewhat secretive circumstances.
Mine was a contentious campaign that included death threats to myself, threats of physical harm to volunteers and an arson attempt on our headquarters. I lost that race to the incumbent who was soon to be convicted of voter fraud. A new election was scheduled for February of 1997.
Still not out, we ran and won amid a field of six candidates, including the ex-wife of the former Representative. It was exhilarating to win, but stressful to not yet be out. Babette patiently stepped aside during public appearances. Because it was a special election, a separate swearing-in ceremony was held for me and another Representative who had been elected on the same day. Standing in the front of the room to be sworn in by the Secretary of the State, the other Representative had his wife by his side, but I stood alone. I repeatedly looked at Babette and tried to somehow express my love to her. It was, nevertheless a telling moment in that amid all the congratulations, I felt a heaviness in my heart.
After much deliberation, we decided that I would come out publicly during the Pride festivities in June 1997. We weighed the effects that this may have on my constituents in a district primarily populated by Puerto Rican families and decided that the political risk would be worth it. I wrote my speech the night before the event and would not share it with Babette. On the day of Pride, while sitting on the lawn of Bushnell Park, Babette asked if I wanted her to be on the stage with me and I said "no." She was visibly disappointed. With the encouragement of Representative Art Feltman, the only other openly gay legislator at the time, I delivered my speech stating that "I am a bisexual woman in love with a woman."
Amid much cheer, I asked the crowd to indulge me while I addressed my partner, Babette. I asked her to please stand and told her how much I loved her and how much I appreciated her support during so many trying times. I then asked her if she would marry me!
The crowd went wild, but what I remember the most is seeing her standing with both hands over her mouth, then extending them and replying "Yes!"
A flurry of media activity followed. We awoke the next day to see our picture in the front page of the newspaper. It was a sweet story about my proposal – yet I felt a sense of fear and vulnerability. Walking out of the house was actually difficult, with visions of just about anything in our heads. But, there were no eggs on our porch, no hateful messages, just a couple of Puerto Rican men across the street who called my name and offered congratulations!
During my re-election campaign, a local Pentecostal minister organized a rally of 100 people to protest a diversity poster in City Hall which depicted many children, one of whom was wearing a "Gay Pride" T-shirt. During that rally, he announced that he would challenge me as an independent candidate because, he said, "she's promoting the homosexual lifestyle in our schools." We kept our focus on our campaign while he used hateful language, distorted my record and used a campaign slogan of "No Metas la Pata" (commonly used as "Don't make a mistake," but with a second meaning of "Don't put the Dyke in." His campaign literature included: "She rubbed her sexuality on our faces," "She married a white woman who even took her name," and "She wants to teach anal sex and lesbian love in our schools." Leaders from the LGBT and the Puerto Rican communities came together to denounce his campaign tactics. We won with 88% of the vote.