By now, most of you have seen the news: York County Republican chair makes disparaging and derogatory remarks in an effort to recruit a candidate to run against me. Calling me “Little Justine” and referencing hate was belittling, personal and unacceptable. It was also astonishingly antiquated in the year 2016.
I am a proud legislator who happens to be married to my best friend. That person happens to be a man. To make it more clear: Yes, I’m gay. So what?
The remarks made by Chair Jim Booth have less to do with him than they do with a mentality that erodes the very fabric this country was built upon. Over the course of the last few months, this mentality has become more and more prevalent in our politics.
The increased acceptance of intolerance can be attributed, in large part, to the inflammatory and divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump.
The diminutive phrase “Little Justine” is not merely hurtful. Words matter because they influence policy.
Whether through formal debate on the floor of a legislative body or through organized efforts to insidiously shape the electorate’s subconscious, words lead to decisions that impact people’s lives.
Words led the national Republican Party to include its commitment to overturning marriage equality in the party platform, and it saddens me that the Maine Republican Party has followed suit. This is a document that is used by candidates up and down the ticket to develop positions that, if elected, they will try to write into law.
I have served in the Maine House of Representatives now for four years. Like clockwork, every legislative session brings out the so-called religious freedom bill, which seeks to roll back rights for people like me. It’s thinly veiled discrimination, an attempt to turn groups of people against each other – a deliberate effort to divide us.
All my life I’ve had to fight; fight to have the same rights as every single one of my friends and family members.
Every step of my journey I’ve faced people who judge me without getting to know me simply for being a little different and discrimination in various forms. But instead of allowing myself to become bitter and resentful, I’ve tried really hard to instead redirect my energy toward something positive. I chose service and a life dedicated to helping others.
My goal has never been to be the “gay” legislator. In fact, my colleagues know that I rarely discuss my personal life and that I have not taken up equality as my key legislative issue. Instead, I’ve focused on issues that keep people up at night – like whether a family will be able to send their children to college, or whether a single mom in a minimum wage job can make rent at the end of the month.
And yet, I have to pause all that, pause my entire life – to explain why my marriage to my husband is nobody’s business and prove that I am much more than the box some try to label me into.
Please, let’s move on. If anything, my marriage should be an example of the kind of relationship people should strive for.
My husband puts up with my grueling schedule – from the campaign trail and my work in Augusta, to my community volunteering and the multiple jobs I work to make ends meet. In fact, he frequently joins me in many of the things I do because he cares deeply about me and my passions. That, my friends, is a partnership.
So I’m not only calling on Jim Booth, the person, to resign, but rather on the Republican Party to resign in its belief that equality is Public Enemy No. 1.
As someone who grew up in a family of Republicans, I know the party can be better than that. Diversity should be seen as a strength and not a weakness. We need to replace a politics of hate with a politics of public service. We must rise above this type of divisiveness, negative tone, and dangerous rhetoric that demonizes people based on who they are and whom they love.
This is not what Maine is about. That’s not what this country is about.
Hopefully this experience will allow us to reaffirm what we want to see in our political leaders: people who stick to the issues and treat opponents with respect.
During last week’s Democratic National Convention, first lady Michelle Obama made clear, “When they go low, we go high.” Fellow Mainers, let’s go high. Hate has no place in our politics. There is already enough of it in the world today.
Rep. Justin Chenette
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