Jim Moeller, Washington, 1995
Jim Moeller (D)
Born July 2, 1955
State House of Representatives, District 49
Elected to the City Council November 1995
Elected to the State House of Representatives November 2002
Re-elected 2004, 2006
Essay by Jim Moeller for Out and Elected in the USA
As I think about my experience as an "out" public official I am struck by the banality of it all. In some ways the experience of being an activist spoiled me and the expectations I had, and those I now have, for public office have altered substantially.
As an activist, I saw my struggle for equal rights as a very BIG issue. Of course it was and still is a very BIG issue for me - my rights, my life, my issue. As a public official I am charged to represent the public - their rights, their lives, their issues. Pretty clearly, those are not always the same.
Becoming a public official is similar to joining the service. They’ve got you for four years, you will be called names, threatened, bullied, and alternately praised, honored and promoted. Your life is suddenly not your own. You go to sleep in your old home on election night and wake up in a glass house. You begin believing you can remain the simple, optimistic hometown kid, but they (the bureaucrats) slowly shape you the way you’re most effective in "the system." They know you’re only temporary (elected) and they would like to survive their experience with you with the least amount of change. I suppose a kinder term would be "mentoring." It is necessary to learn how to be effective, yet akin to learning the truth about Santa Claus. There are some things I never wanted to know.
As many of us know, being out is never a one-time event. As a public official it must be regularly addressed in doing the business of government. As that business is often completed with the development of new friendships and relationships, the assumption that you are heterosexual by new business people and other public policy makers occasionally makes for sometimes awkward and sometimes funny moments.
I recall soon after I was elected, the local Boy Scout Council invited me and my "spouse" to a celebration barbecue and wanted "her name" so we could both be recognized by the group at their event. Somehow they were aware I was not single but didn't have the details. I struggled with wanting to play the activist role and give them Clark's name along with a note of thanks for their refusal to participate in the homophobic policies of the National Boy Scouts of America, and that we were both looking forward to the event. However, I finally decided to simply let them know that I was gay and that my "spouse" was another man. I offered them an opportunity to withdraw the invitation graciously. They took it.
Now, in my activist days I would have just shown up with Clark on my arm and embarrassed them with their homophobia and heterosexism. However, my experience with public life has taught me to pick my battles carefully and that a tip of my hand at this time MAY produce a better understanding at a later point in the game.
On the other side of the coin has been the tremendous amount of respect shown by other members of my community. Recently, at a labor dinner of the city's fire department, the speaker introduced Clark as my “spouse.” This was a first for both of us as Clark had often been ignored in the introductions of public officials and their “wives or husbands.” As Clark stood sheepishly up beside me the applause was tremendous. At that moment, I don't think I was more proud of the choices I made in living my life and running for office as a "out" gay man.
John Kennedy once said "Let the public service be a proud and honorable profession." It is a great honor to be elected by your peers to serve the public and I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to represent my community, gay or straight, as a city councilman.