What’s the most important thing to you when you’re deciding what candidate to vote for? Their stance on healthcare reform? Their track record on gay issues? Their fiscal policies? How cute their kids are?
Obviously voting on the basis of that last one would be kind of questionable. But lots of politicians, on the local and national scale, have made the connection between “family values” and their actual families, choosing to end their ad spots with Christmas-card soft-focus portraits of their families dressed monochromatically and staring just to the left of the camera. While no one is necessarily out to destroy queer families by celebrating their own (after all, no one knows better than us that that’s not how it works), it does create a narrative that it’s hard for a queer candidate to compete with. In most states, it’s pretty difficult for a queer parent to raise a family, even more so than the juggling that has to happen with a straight parent pursuing a life in politics. And while it would be nice to include your partner or spouse on press tours and in photos and media appearances, you’re definitely running the risk that voters will be more put off by your ‘flaunting your homosexuality’ than by your devotion to your family.
Enter Bevan Dufty, an openly gay candidate for the mayor of San Francisco, who’s decided to just up and go for it.
Dufty’s 30-second spot isn’t about his queer family, or about reassuring voters that he’s just like them because he’s a dad. In fact, it’s just about the MUNI. His daughter just happens to be there with him — you know, like it’s normal. Like they’re a regular family. No matching white button-down shirts and blue jeans required. Sure, it’s a little bit gimmicky; don’t you want to vote for the guy who loves his little daughter? But also, when you know the backstory of Dufty and his daughter, it feels like a pretty brave thing.
In 2006, the story broke that Dufty was having a child with a platonic friend — that a man and a woman, both gay, were planning on making a baby together with no intention of being married or committed partners. Even “normal” gay adoption is a pretty contentious issue; this caused a minor uproar. News anchor Pete Wilson said at the time:
“The Dufty-Goldfader baby is, in my mind, a travesty. Or a potential travesty. Perhaps that’s a better way of saying it,” Wilson said. “At some point, there is a limit to how far we stretch the self-indulgent search for the alternative that we have been involved in the last 30 or 40 years in this country.”
Wilson eventually apologized for his remarks, admitting they were “inappropriate,” but stood by his stance that “I still believe the argument is a perfectly appropriate argument. I think the argument needs to take place about the number of directions we have gone with parenting and children.” Dufty wrote him at the time to agree that we all make mistakes, and to contend that he didn’t think Wilson needed to resign.
Five years later, the “Dufty-Goldfader baby” is Sidney riding the MUNI; if her father wins this election, he’ll be the first openly gay mayor elected in San Francisco. He’ll also be an extremely public example of queer families, of alternative family arrangements, and in a way of single fatherhood. (At least that’s how he’ll likely be perceived from this video.) Sidney’s tomboyish outfit won’t be lost on voters either; in this video, she could easily pass for a five-year-old boy. None of these are things that American voters have historically been enthusiastic about; San Francisco is a fairly liberal place to test those waters, but what Dufty is doing is pretty unprecedented even there. It’s a politically daring move, and there’s no telling just yet whether it will pay off.
More than demonstrating that (some) voting regions have become willing to accept the reality of gay candidates and their families, Dufty’s campaign tells us that at least for some politicians, in some places, your queer family can actually be an asset. In a campaign, every public move has been vetted and positioned to be as politically expedient as possible; that’s the point of ad spots. Regardless of how Dufty’s campaign eventually works out, and even beyond the San Francisco area, there’s a larger message here: the days when we can benefit from showing off how proud we are of our families instead of fearing repercussion are getting closer and closer, and for some, they might already be here.