Mary Wiseman, Ohio, 1997
Born November 17, 1961
City Council Member
Elected November 1997
Appointed Mongomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge October 2007
Interview with Mary Wiseman for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: Tell me about your campaign. I know there were some negative attacks.
A: When I was first running, I was openly out, but it had never received any media attention or comment. Coming at it from a neighborhood activist background, I had zero name recognition when I started to run for elected office. I didn’t have any until someone in the community anonymously sent these postcards to various community leaders and voters saying that people shouldn’t vote for me in the primary because I was a threat to traditional family values. Well, everybody got so mad that people would say that. I had complete strangers coming up and saying, “I don’t know you from Adam, but I’m going to vote for you because that is just plain mean what they did to you.” This also created a lot of media interest and my name recognition went from zero to my being one of the highest vote-getters in the primary.
This was actually very fun because it was a classic case of someone trying to do lesbian-baiting, trying a negative attack, and it being turned right around. It really backfired. There were people in the media who received the post cards, who then wanted to call and ask about my reaction – which was, and still is, that there are always going to be people in the community who try to succeed by dividing people rather than working with what we have in common, and how we can use that common ground to build on it for the success of our community. So, it gave me an opportunity to make a pitch for tolerance, a pitch for acceptance, and I tried to explain that these were some of the things I stood for.
Then there was a big hunt on in the media to find out who it was that sent the postcards. They could never get it verified one way or the other, so is was a story that ran for a couple of weeks. And it all ended up being focused on, “look at these mean, intolerant people,” because other than saying, “Mary Wiseman is gay,” they didn’t have anything else to say about the fact that she is running. They wouldn’t say that I had bad ideas, or they wouldn’t say that I wasn’t qualified, you know, because they couldn’t. The only thing they could attack me for was my sexual orientation, and the community, and particularly the media, said that it was just out of bounds and irrelevant.
Q: You tried to enact some non-discrimination language for Dayton that ultimately failed. How did that play out and what did you learn?
A: That has been a very challenging struggle here in Dayton, and I think I can honestly say that I think I’ve gone from being a rookie to being an experienced politician and public servant. It was one of those experiences that was disappointing. And I can’t help but thinking that part of the conservative or moderately conservative part of the community said, “OK. We went far enough by electing a lesbian, but don’t push it too far by amending your non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation.” Which I thought was really unfortunate. So there definitely has been some backlash. And to see that my colleagues decided to “compromise” on the issue instead of take a stand on it after having told the gay and lesbian community for years and years that they would strongly support a non-discrimination ordinance – that was a real eye-opener as well.
Q: Any other observations about your city?
A: Dayton is a community that remains very divided along racial lines. One of the things that public service has really opened my eyes to is how difficult it is to bridge the racial divide in our community, and part of the dynamic I encounter is that GLBT issues are so far off the table. They aren’t even on the radar screen for so may groups around here who have in their mission statements to work for social justice and equality for all because our community is so mired in this racial divide. As someone of white privilege, you know that the issues are there, but you never know how deep they run until you put yourself in the middle of the stream. It has really shown how much work our particular community has to do in those racial justice issues before we can get on the radar screen and make some better progress for ourselves.