Jackie Biskupski, Utah, 1998
Jackie Biskupski (D)
Born January 11, 1966
State Representative, District 30
Salt Lake City, Utah
Elected November 1998
Re-elected 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006
Interview with Jackie Biskupski for Out and Elected in the USA
My desire to be involved in politics was fueled when the kids from East High School filed for the authorization to have a Gay Straight Alliance Club at their school. The debate over the issue became very intense, very quickly, and continues today. The kids had no idea what they had gotten themselves into and before they knew it, they were up against some of the most hateful right wing extremists they will ever know. As I sat back and watched the news clips, read the articles, and listened to the discussions going on around me, I realized I was partially responsible for the living hell they were experiencing. I should have been doing something to make life better for gays and lesbians.
Why wasn’t I? Life is about realizing what your purpose is and then acting on it. I had no idea exactly what I was going to do or when I would do it, I just knew my role in life was to protect the rights of individuals. In 1996 I managed a very difficult, but successful, campaign and gained recognition amongst members of the Democratic Party. Early in 1997, I was elected to the Executive Committee for the Salt Lake County Democratic party as well as the Board of Directors for the YWCA of Salt Lake City. That same year I was asked to run for Salt Lake City Council. I remember coming home to my partner, Lori Davis, and asking her what she thought. We talked about it for two days and decided I was the right person for the job, and no matter how difficult it got, we would handle it. It was a nightmare. Among the seven candidates, there was another lesbian in the race. Some members of the gay and lesbian community opposed my candidacy and the attacks from them grew fierce as the race went on. In the end a Mormon man and myself made it through the primary.
Up to that point, many people had decided I wasn’t “gay enough” and the gay community was divided in its support. I lost that race by 43 votes. Within a month of my opponent’s taking office, he voted to repeal the city ordinance that protected gays and lesbians from discrimination at the workplace. The repeal passed in a 4-3 vote. It was a day I will never forget and one that I hope the community as a whole learned from. If we are to be successful in our endeavors, we must stand united.
Shortly after my defeat, I knew I had to run for the Utah House of Representatives. The seat was being vacated and the man holding it was eager to give me his endorsement. I filed early and made it publicly known that I was running. By then it was well known that I was gay. There were members of the Democratic party who were concerned about my running and actively tried to recruit another democrat to run against me. A few highly respected individuals in the community put an end to the recruitment and I avoided a primary.
By July trouble had arrived at my door, literally. The first attack letter was sent out by an unknown source. It threatened individuals by making their support of my candidacy public information. The people who received copies were so angered that the press knew of the letter before I did. Quickly, the anti-gay campaign tactics grew fierce. A new organization was formed to send out mailers and help with phone calling while an established anti-gay organization took to the press. In the weeks that followed, reading the newspaper editorials became a nearly daily ritual as letters regarding my race were printed. Despite the fact that a Mormon bishop preached in church the Sunday before the election about voting for a moral candidate, and another sent out a postcard endorsing my opponent by stating he wasn’t undermining the values that this nation stands for, I won. Humanity won.
I attribute the successes in my life to a few things. I know that if you want more from life you have to take risks, serve a purpose, and always put others before yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that if you want your life to be free of something, then you have to stop participating in it and start educating others. I have to say the one lesson I’ve learned over and over during my political career is that you never let anyone drag you down to their level. Always take the high road.