Advising Obama

by HRC Staff

Openly Gay Deputy Campaign Manager Steve Hildebrand Talks about Life on the Campaign Trail.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Barack Obama's openly gay deputy campaign manager, which ran in the Fall 2008 issue of HRC's Equality magazine. Equality, the largest LGBT magazine in the country, is a quarterly magazine with updates, features, photos, special Q & As, calls to action and more - and comes free with an HRC membership. Click here to become an HRC member.

Steve Hildebrand has an unwavering belief that Barack Obama wants to - and can - change Washington for the better. In fact, Hildebrand has devoted nearly every waking hour over the past two years - as Obama's deputy campaign manager - to getting the U.S. senator from Illinois elected as president.

On the campaign trail, Hildebrand has the opportunity to talk with Americans from all walks of life, hearing their stories - the very people that Obama promises to help if he is elected president. In turn, he gets a chance to tell his own personal story - that of a gay man from conservative South Dakota who is driven by his desire "to elect leaders who will fight for people who need a voice, who need a champion and an advocate."

Hildebrand - a pioneer in his own right - took time recently to speak with Equality magazine, just days after his boss's nomination at the Democratic Convention. (Equality requested an interview with an openly gay senior staff member for the McCain campaign. The campaign did not respond as of press time.) Here are some excerpts:

Equality: Was it harder to come out as a liberal or a gay man to your fellow South Dakotans?

Steve: Like many people, my coming out was an evolving process. I'm proud to say that my partner and I have been together for more than 16 years. We live in an historic neighborhood in Sioux Falls - a community of about 150,000. We are close to our neighbors and have hundreds of friends across the state who love and support us. We are very fortunate to have close relationships with our families who have never questioned who we are.

For me, being in Democratic politics at a high level, coming from a conservative state, there certainly have been detractors who have tried to "out" me. But since I'm pretty far out there - and because every reporter in South Dakota and most national political reporters already know - it's a difficult thing for them to make my personal life an issue. I can't say that I'm a welcomed figure with the chamber of commerce crowd back home - but I've never laid awake at night worrying about that.


Equality: Why did you want to work for Barack Obama?

Steve: Barack Obama offers a real opportunity to change Washington for the better. That may sound like a slogan at this point, but I honestly believe he will work tirelessly to create a climate in Washington that is more conducive to setting policies that help the average American and not just the wealthiest people or the most powerful corporations.

After eight years of Bush failures and disappointments, I know Barack will make us all proud.


Equality: Do you think there is a bridge to be crossed in gaining the trust of some members of the white LGBT community, especially those who may have first supported other candidates?

Steve: I think we've done much of this, but there is always more we need to do. Many LGBT activists and donors of John Edwards came on board with Barack soon after Edwards withdrew from the race. They are some of our most active and dedicated supporters. The same thing happened when Senator Clinton got out and endorsed Barack. We know there are still LGBT voters taking a fresh look at both Barack Obama and John McCain now that the primaries are over, and we need to make sure these voters know about the vast differences between the two of them. Many, including myself, believe that we will be set back 30 years if we aren't successful in getting Barack elected. We can't turn back - not after the progress we've made.

Equality: What should LGBT voters know about Barack Obama that they don't yet know?

Steve: I wish everyone knew Barack and Michelle the way I do. They are so warm, loving and committed to making this country the best it can be - for ALL Americans. They both have a deep commitment to equality. And they both look at politics differently than most other politicians. For example, Barack believed long ago (think back to the 2004 convention speech) that addressing issues important to LGBT voters in every major speech he gives could have a more positive impact than speaking to a predominantly gay audience in a hotel ballroom. From "we have some gay friends in red states" to his presidential announcement speech in February of 2007 to addressing African-American ministers at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on MLK Day - and most recently to the 32 million Americans who tuned in to hear his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention at the end of August in Denver, Barack has shown this commitment over and over again.


Equality: At a recent bloggers convention, you talked about the big picture for Democrats, how it's not just about electing Obama, but about having a progressive majority in the U.S. What do you see yourself doing beyond this election?

Steve: I hate this question. After 22 years of giving up so much to campaign life, I'm pretty tired. I want to continue to contribute, but in different ways. I think my partner is ready to have me home at night.

I am serious though, that this movement that's been created needs to be sustained beyond Barack's election to the presidency on Nov. 4. If we are going to have a progressive majority, if we are going to implement Barack's agenda, we need to keep working to ensure that the voices of the American people are stronger than the corporate lobbyists. Change isn't automatic when Barack gets elected. On Nov. 5, the real hard work begins - or we won't achieve the kind of change America needs.

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