Nebraska Politics

Democrats Must be Champions for LGBTQIA Families

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Nebraska Democratic Party LGBTQIA Caucus member Joe Shaw.


On Sunday afternoon, the Nebraska Democratic Party’s LGBTQIA Caucus Chair, Brian Whitecalf, was in church when he received a disturbing YouTube video texted to his phone.

In the video, a recently announced Democratic candidate for governor, Vanessa Ward, spoke to the Omaha City Council opposing the LGBTQIA anti-discrimination ordinance in 2012. She spoke against the ordinance saying that it could undo all the work she’s done strengthening families in her Omaha neighborhood.

You can listen to her comments below.

Gubernatorial Candidate Vanessa Ward.

What we heard her say was: “I don’t want this law to contradict the family values I teach to young men and young women to adhere to traditional family roles. I don’t want this ordinance to mess up our family values in our community. It’s the only thing that works.”

She’s essentially saying LGBTQIA families hurt other families. She is saying LGBTQIA families don’t want the same things that all families want: safe streets, good schools and the opportunity to succeed.

The Nebraska Democratic Party LGBTQIA (NDP LGBTQIA) Caucus’ Executive Committee discussed her statement and bemoaned the fact that in 2018, we have a Democratic candidate who as recently as 2012, opposed an ordinance in Omaha that would allow LGBTQIA people protections from employment discrimination.

Then her campaign made it worse. After hearing from activists that were upset about the video, Colleen Brennan, her campaign chair, said on her Facebook page that Ms. Ward has come around on LGBTQIA issues and issued this statement:

“No American citizen should ever be discriminated against. It is as simple as that. However, as citizens in a diverse society it is important for us to always remember that some, particularly those who grew-up in a different time or with different religious or moral training, may not understand or fully accept the way culture has been transformed in recent decades. That is not to say that they are right or wrong, but simply to acknowledge that in the spirit of humanity, we should try to be compassionate of the opinions and the beliefs of others.”

This is not an endorsement of LGBTQIA rights. It doesn’t even mention LGBTQIA rights. One of our members was quoted as saying, “That sounds like someone saying they support gay rights but at the same time they also support a business owner who wishes to refuse service to any group of people due to religious convictions. Of course we understand that people can change, we’re not stupid and we don’t hold grudges unless they need to be held. People need to SHOW us that they have changed, not just issue a wishy-washy statement.”

At her campaign kick-off on Monday night, Ms. Ward said nothing publicly about LGBTQIA rights, although we had hoped she might, given the controversy over the video. One activist who attended, wrote on Facebook that he had privately asked Ms. Ward, if she were to be elected as governor, would she sign a bill “extending employment protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation and she said ‘yes.’”

This is not good enough. A Democratic candidate for governor should be able to publicly support marriage equality, protection from discrimination in employment and housing, support transgender rights, AND they should also be able to talk publicly about it with conviction.

“We don’t need a johnny-come-lately on our issues,” says Brian Whitecalf, NDP LGBTQIA Chair. “We need a champion, a contender.”

The NDP LGBTQIA Caucus wants Ms. Ward to know: we are willing to sit down with you, talk about the things we have in common and speak to you about our lives and families, but we need you to embrace our issues with enthusiasm, without reserve and be a champion for our issues. We know you can, because you are a great champion for your community.

But you are on notice, we will no longer accept Democratic candidates in Nebraska that don’t accept us, and who can’t speak about our issues and values with passion and clarity.