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Gay Rights

Boston mayoral hopefuls embrace gay issues

An endorsement becomes difficult for city activists

Candidate John F. Barros (standing at the forum), a former Boston School Committee member, has pledged to install or strengthen gay-straight alliances in all city schools.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Candidate John F. Barros (standing at the forum), a former Boston School Committee member, has pledged to install or strengthen gay-straight alliances in all city schools.

On the patio of a Dorchester restaurant one recent day, nine candidates for mayor stood in near unanimity, pledging their allegiance to the rainbow flag. One said he would bring the Gay Games to Boston. Another spoke of his experience growing up with a lesbian mother.

DotOut, the gay rights group hosting the forum, didn't even bother with an endorsement vote. With so many supportive candidates facing the packed crowd, it would be impossible for one candidate to win a majority vote, said an organizer.

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In a city known for its liberal leanings and as the birthplace of gay marriage, the candidates for mayor are outspokenly, proactively, and almost universally supportive of gay issues. Candidates aren’t distinguishing themselves on their support for gay marriage; instead, they’re competing over who has been the most demonstrative, waged the most unlikely battle, or been a friend the longest to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community.

“You want to run for mayor of the city of Boston, you have to be pro-GLBT,” said Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. “It’s only a matter of two things — the degree to which you are pro-GLBT and, very importantly, what’s your track record? In this area, there are a couple of people who have top-notch track records.”

Isaacson, who is torn between competing loyalties to three candidates, is among the activists who are reluctant to make an endorsement. Bay Windows, New England’s largest publication targeted at gay readership, hasn’t yet decided whether to weigh in, and MassEquality, a group that fought for gay marriage, is waiting out the preliminary election. Gay and lesbian residents — an active, sought-after voting bloc in Boston — face an embarrassment of riches in the race.

“At the moment it seems to be all over the map,” said Isaacson. “I have been getting solicitations to support different candidates or go to fund-raisers from so many people in our community and for many different candidates.”

“Too many blessings,” said Liz Malia, an openly gay state representative from Jamaica Plain who knows most of the candidates. “They all bring something really impressive to the table.”

Nonetheless, Malia decided to endorse state Representative Martin J. Walsh, pointing to their work together on the legislative Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

She and Isaacson also credit Walsh for being a pivotal, behind-the-scenes advocate who worked as a floor whip in 2007 to help defeat a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage. Walsh was particularly persuasive, they said, because he’s a straight, Catholic, labor guy from Dorchester who was not viewed as especially progressive. “He led the way and wasn’t afraid to have those conversations with people,” said Malia.

Walsh is the only candidate among the 12 candidates who was in the Legislature during that tumultuous time, but Charlotte Golar Richie, a candidate from Dorchester, served in the Legislature years earlier and supported domestic partnerships for same-sex partners.

Richie was also considered a “reliable, pro-gay vote,” Isaacson said. At the gay forum at Ledge Kitchen & Drinks this week, she assured voters she would continue to be an ally.

“I want you to know that you can count on me,” Richie said.

Mayoral candidate Bill Walczak, cofounder of the Codman Square Health Center, notes that he extended benefits to domestic partners of clinic employees in the 1990s when the City Council extended them to city employees, and that he stood up as a “CEO for Equal Marriage” during the public debate over gay marriage.

John F. Barros, a former Boston School Committee member and former executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, touted his work with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth, and pledged to install or strengthen gay-straight alliances in all city schools.

Several candidates who have served on the City Council have taken pro-gay stances on issues that came before the body.

Daniel F. Conley, a mayoral candidate who currently serves as Suffolk district attorney, speaks proudly of a vote he took in 1996 on providing health benefits to the partners of gay city employees. Conley represented a more conservative urban constituency in Hyde Park than some of his council peers and was not viewed as a likely supporter of the measure, recalled Tom Keane, the former city councilor who sponsored the measure and who now writes a column for the Globe. But after several conversations with Keane, Conley surprised many of his colleagues by casting the deciding vote in favor of domestic partner benefits.

“Danny really was my critical vote on this issue,” Keane said. “And this was on domestic partnerships before same sex marriage was a gleam in anyone’s eye.”

Conley also told gay activists last week that as district attorney, he has shifted the focus from viewing youth prostitutes as defendants to viewing them as victims.

Councilor Charles C. Yancey voted against one proposal to extend domestic partner benefits to city workers before embracing the 1996 version. He was an early proponent of a Boston Human Rights Commission, he said.

In 2002, City Council also made news by passing a city ordinance protecting the rights of transgendered people. Yancey and fellow mayoral candidates and city councilors Mike Ross and Rob Consalvo were among the supporters.

City Councilor John R. Connolly won praise for cosponsoring a 2010 resolution supporting a State House bill that would bar discrimination and hate crimes against transgendered people. He also did pro bono legal work for a gay organization and pledged to continue trying to bring to Boston the Gay Games, an international athletic event aimed at promoting inclusion.

City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo took a stand immediately after being elected in 2009 that he would not march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the annual South Boston event whose organizers won a Supreme Court ruling to bar gay marchers. Later, he sponsored another city resolution in support of a 2011 state bill protecting transgendered people against discrimination.

And Ross is not only a backer of all those council efforts; he’s also the son of a woman who came out as a lesbian when he was a young boy.

“I never had to get educated about whether it’s right or wrong to march in a parade that discriminates against you,” said Ross. “It’s who I am and it’s because of the values that I have and that I’ve been given by the people who raised me — my Mom and Dad.”

Candidate David James Wyatt could not be reached for comment and did not attend the DotOut forum.

During his 20 years in office, Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been a strong gay rights advocate. From the moment he hired a gay woman to be his campaign manager in his first mayoral race, Menino made it clear he would view sexual orientation as irrelevant, supporters say. He took symbolic stands such as opposing a Chick-fil-A in Boston after the restaurant chain’s president opposed gay marriage. He refused to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade as a newly elected mayor, even as the battle over inclusion of gay groups was still heated and ongoing.

Three of his potential successors — Conley, Connolly, and Walsh — all acknowledged they have marched in the parade in the past. But only one of the mayoral candidates said he would march in the future.

The outlier, Charles L. Clemons Jr., said he would march in both the traditional parade and the one that follows it on St. Patrick’s Day, which allows gay marchers. And he declined to answer directly whether he supports gay marriage.

“I support marriage,” Clemons said. “I support love.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.
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