An openly gay 28-year-old Democrat is running to become Indiana's first openly gay state representative. With an affable yet determined demeanor, he makes the case that Indianans are perhaps less affronted by their LGBT neighbors than many might think and are ready for a gay representative. He is the first self-identified LGBT person to run for the job, although another openly gay candidate is running for state Senate.
Thad Gerardot grew up in Fort Wayne and knows the challenges faced by LGBT individuals. "A couple years ago, I read some data that showed how unwelcome LGBT people felt here," he said. Those within the community self-reported feeling less welcome than nearly every other surveyed group. But Gerardot doesn't find the source of tension to be intentional malice.
"People from Fort Wayne are really nice. They're kind and respectful. It's not as much open hostility as miscommunication and misunderstanding," Gerardot explained. He did acknowledge the region's historically conservative politics: "We're kind of the conservative stronghold of Indiana."
For a newcomer, Gerardot is unusually comfortable discussing the political dynamics, probably due to a politically blended personal life. "Most of my family's Republican. A lot of my best friends are Republican," he admits with a hint of satisfaction. For Gerardot, even family gatherings are a bipartisan affair, which he views as good preparation for the political environment he would enter upon winning the race.
Gerardot believes everyone is working toward a common goal, especially young folks entering a troubled economy in Indiana, where the unemployment rate for college graduates far surpasses the national average. His primary concern is the upcoming generation's ability to support families, buy homes and open businesses. Family is a recurring theme for the young politician. "My father was actually diagnosed with stage four lung cancer a couple years ago. I moved down to help take care of him. That changed my whole perspective on life," he said. Gerardot credits his family for instilling an ethic to be "respectful, fair and honest."
Gerardot's also not afraid to fight for the causes he supports and has some strong words for Indiana's current representation: "They care more about getting reelected than they do about improving the situation." As an obvious populist, Gerardot just wants to get the job done, "For me, it's not about the letter next to your name. It's about working together to solve the problem."
The past two years I've been sitting down with people from different walks of life and getting to know their stories. They don't feel represented in the state house. In this area, most of the time, the representatives are talking about who's more conservative and who wants less government. There's never anything fresh or new.
Gerardot worked with Freedom Indiana on a gay rights issue that he describes as completely overtaking the legislative session. Indiana is among the remaining states without gay marriage that has never had an explicit ban in the state constitution, despite an anti-marriage law on the books.
Indiana has one of the toughest processes in the U.S. to amend a state constitution. If language gets into the document, removing it can be a major challenge. Gerardot explained that the state requires an amendment be passed twice by separately elected assemblies before eventually reaching the ballot.
In this instance, equality won the battle. But another round is coming, as the author of the anti-marriage resolution has promised to bring it up next year. Gerardot is still fired up over a glaring omission from the debate: "Not one of those representatives was impacted by this law they talked about for two and a half months. We didn't have one LGBT person in that room."
As the country heads toward increasing equality for LGBT individuals, Thad Gerardot may be Indiana's first member of the community to pull up a chair.
You can learn more about Thad Gerardot at his official campaign site.