The Gay Mayor of Gator-Ville

Craig Lowe was just elected the first openly gay mayor of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. But not before a campaign that treated voters to hate speech, homophobic clergy, bathroom hysteria, and, because it's Florida, a recount.

Details: Let me congratulate you on coming out ahead in the recount of the runoff—if only by 42 votes. Were you optimistic?

Craig Lowe: The voting infrastructure in the area is very accurate, and I didn't expect there to be much change in the recount. There is a history in Florida, though . . .

Details: You beat me to it. Did you expect any Bush v. Gore–style chicanery?

Craig Lowe: We were ready for any of those attempts. There was a lot of posturing going on. The Republican Party Board, they're involved with my opponent. But the important thing is that the will of the voters was upheld.

Details: Would you still say that if you had seen Katherine Harris entering the recount room?

Craig Lowe: [Laughs] I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised with anything at this point.

Details: Do you feel that there are people in the anti-Lowe camp from outside Gainesville who tried to influence this election?

Craig Lowe: Well, I don't know if I would describe it being from outside Gainesville. I think there is probably a playbook out there for how to work against a candidate who is openly gay or lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. That some of those tactics were used in this campaign, perhaps by people who are local.

Details: Do you feel those tactics had an effect?

Craig Lowe: Yes, I do. When one compares the results from the general election that was held on March 16 and the runoff on April 13, you see a difference in the results, which is unfortunate. It was reported to me that my opponent was going into neighborhoods and his campaign was making references to my sexual orientation and to positions that I took in favor of equality and essentially reduced those things to fear tactics. [Don Marsh has denied attacking Lowe on the basis of his sexual orientation.]

Details: Let's talk about those controversial positions—what are they?

Craig Lowe: I was a supporter of the ordinance that added gender identity to the antidiscrimination protection ordinance, so that someone could not be discriminated against in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit because of their gender identity. The opposition posed it as a "Transgender Bathroom Ordinance." It was all reduced to the bathrooms.

Details: I read that there were flyers calling for the repeal of the ordinance on the grounds it would allow predators and men to legally enter women's restrooms.

Craig Lowe: That did occur. Actually, after the city commission passed the ordinance, there was an effort to put a charter amendment on the ballot that would have essentially totally deleted the city of Gainesville's antidiscrimination ordinance.

Details: But the repeal amendment was defeated. Was that a true measure of the voters' views on gender identity?

Craig Lowe: Yes. That was a very accurate reflection of Gainesville's views on the matter. There are some that are on both sides that are, uh, very committed to the position on the issue.

Details: Very diplomatic. You're certainly parsing your words like someone who's ready to hold the office of mayor.

Craig Lowe: [Laughs] Well, thank you. When you put in the overall trend that is building across the country, with respect to the feelings towards the government in general, and elected officials in particular, I think that there is resistance to add this issue back onto the overall Tea Party movement and use that for political advantage. I think this reflects the primary reason for the closeness of the vote.

Details: Were you ever conscious of the fact that you would be a "first" running for this kind of office?

Craig Lowe: Well, I'm not the first openly gay mayor in Florida, but definitely in north Florida, and also probably as far as cities, probably the first openly gay mayor in a city this large in the southeastern United States. But did I feel like my sexuality was going to be an issue? It definitely was an issue, because there were flyers put around town. So they did say "Vote against Lowe because he will allow men in women's restrooms." And then there were others obviously put out by the same person or persons, posing as coming from my own campaign, "Vote for Craig Lowe: He will be the first gay mayor in Gainesville, he will allow men in women's restrooms," "He will advance the gay agenda," "He will support gay churches, gay marches, gay this or that." These were flyers thrown on people's yards, put on people's doors, and flyers on churches.

Details: In retrospect, is there something you wish you had done to combat those tactics?

Craig Lowe: Well, I think so—and I think there are organizations that are working on that. But there's always the question of "Do you respond to opponent attacks?" And I think we really did take the high road in this campaign, letting the opposition throw the mud. But I also think there may be more strategic and more refined ways to respond than just going to one absolute or the other.

Details: It must have been hard to take the high road when the Dove Outreach Church put a message on its sign that read "No Homo Mayor." Didn't you ever want to leave a message on their lawn?

Craig Lowe: [Laughs] Well, it's their lawn, I'm not going to put anything on there. I will be mayor to all of Gainesville, but I will work to ensure that everyone in Gainesville is treated equally and fairly.

Details: Does that include William Sapp, another town pastor? I saw a YouTube video where this guy hurled various gay slurs at you.

Craig Lowe: Yes, but I will ensure that he will not be able to force discrimination upon anyone else—which is what he is really seeking. His agenda goes against every fiber of my being. There are things that have occurred there that the legal system will have to deal with, such as that church's tax-exempt status due to participation in political campaigns, and that's actually between him and the IRS.

Details: Obviously it was offensive, but as an aficionado of church signs, I have to say that Dove's slogan—"No Homo Mayor"—didn't even seem that creative.

Craig Lowe: Would you expect something more articulate in a message like that? I would not. It sort of reminds me of when I was running for eighth-grade president and I happened to walk by a sign in the hallway that said "No to Homo Lowe." And frankly, that's before I even came out. It sort of reminded me of how really immature that type of message is, and that's how I considered this sign. That's such a fringe of our community and definitely not reflective of Gainesville.

Details: Does a candidate for mayor in Gainesville have to reflect his community by being a Gators fan?

Craig Lowe: Well, I am a Gators fan, but I will say that I do hold allegiances to the University of Georgia, which is another institution that I attended. I am an alumnus of both the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.

Details: The University of Georgia? Now that could've been something they used against you—

Craig Lowe: [Laughs] Perhaps, but I guess they didn't think that was as much red meat as that other thing.

Details: Did you ever try to get an endorsement from Tim Tebow? That could've made it a landslide.

Craig Lowe: [Laughs] Well, not actually. There was that Super Bowl ad, but I'm not sure how political he really goes. I'm not going to try to play football, and it doesn't appear like he'll try to play politics.


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