Gainesville mayor discusses politics, lifestyle at OUTLaw event
By Max Wihnyk (2L)
Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe visited the University of Florida Levin College of Law to share his story as an openly gay politician.
OUTLaw: UF Law’s Gay & Straight Alliance, welcomed Lowe Feb. 28 as its inaugural speaker for the OUT in the Field Lecture Series in order to give students an idea of life in the “real world” as an out individual.
The purpose of the lecture series is to provide LGBTQ students an opportunity to hear from openly gay individuals in the field and what their experiences have been like. Lowe was sworn in as Gainesville’s mayor May 20, 2010, after serving the city of Gainesville for seven years as a city commissioner.
Lowe fostered an interest in politics since an early age, starting with his eighth grade class presidential campaign, where he also experienced homophobia. In that same campaign, he was subjected to slogans such as “Say No To Homo Lowe.”
“It was my first experience with a homophobic campaign,” Lowe said. “Although at the time I didn’t even really know what homosexuality was.”
Though Lowe lost his presidential bid that year, his passion for politics was voracious.
“As a young boy I was fascinated by politics,” Lowe told the nearly 30 people that attended the lecture. “I remember watching the nominations and debates on television.”
Lowe took a break from campaigning in order to earn his bachelor of science in agriculture in soil science from the University of Georgia, and in 1982 he received a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida. At the age of 46, 21 years later, Lowe embarked on his historic political career in Gainesville.
From 2003 through his swearing in as Mayor in 2010, Lowe served as a Gainesville City Commissioner. “I felt that whether it be in land use planning or issues of equality, we could do better, I could do better,” Lowe said.
Cries from opponents saying he was a one-issue candidate — referring to his sexuality — didn’t stop Lowe from championing wise transportation planning, better public safety and more equality. During his campaign for mayor, Lowe experienced growing homophobia and attacks on his sexuality.
The Dove Outreach Church, “a so-called church,” Lowe said, posted a sign, reading “No Homo Mayor,” which drew the eye of the national press to the Gainesville Mayoral Campaign.
Lowe told the UF Law audience that his opponents handed out fake flyers, purporting to be from the Lowe campaign, at conservative churches and door-to-door. The flyer read “As Mayor, I (Lowe) will allow men in women’s restrooms.” And while going door-to-door, opponents made it appear that Lowe would turn Gainesville into San Francisco.
Lowe won the election by 42 votes.
Lowe’s experience is an important one to be heard. As an openly gay politician and Gainesville’s first openly gay mayor, Lowe brought a bank of experiences and knowledge to the lecture.
His insight into what life is like beyond the walls of the classroom provide a window for LGBTQ students to see what life may be like after graduation. Lowe remarked that his experience as mayor has been a rewarding one, and that things are getting better.
Lowe is proud of Gainesville’s anti-discrimination laws and domestic partnership registry. But Lowe still cautions that “we are not there yet” and much is to be done.
Lowe encouraged those in attendance and beyond to stay involved and work to change the status quo, and that while we will always have homophobia, the youth need to take up the cause.
Commenting on marriage equality, Lowe said, “One day we will have a Supreme Court that says any marriage law that is against equality is unconstitutional.” He added, “It is a good thing to champion marriage equality, especially in Gainesville. It is basic human rights similar to Loving v. Virginia.”
When asked what LGBTQ students should do regarding the prospect of entering the professional world and reconciling with their sexuality. Lowe said it is important to decide as an individual to determine how they will be who they are.
He said it’s important to become involved in LGBTQ professional groups — such as OUTLaw and Pride Student Union — saying that they are a great networking place and mechanism for activism.
In regard to looking employment after graduation, Lowe suggested students should turn to LGBTQ directories for positions, and that big firms like Holland & Knight are open to hiring, regardless of sexual orientation.
Lowe ended his question and answer session with a plea to all those of voting age to register, vote and participate in the process to work for change.
Look for future OUTLaw events, including more from this series.
Max Wihnyk is a 2L and the president of OUTLaw.