Gay Political Hopeful Faces Fire
Associated Press, October 4, 1998
By Mike Carter
SALT LAKE CITYTo Jackie Biskupski, her run for the Utah
Legislature is about taxes, crime and growth in the sprawling suburban district she wants
For almost everyone else, its about her sexuality. Biskupski, 32, is the first
openly gay candidate to run for Utahs staunchly conservative, overwhelmingly Mormon
Legislature. Her candidacy has drawn fire from both the far right, which accuses her of
living an "immoral and illegal lifestyle," and some homosexual activists who
feel shes turned her back on her own.
"I want to talk about the issues and everybody else wants to talk about
this," said Biskupski, a Democrat and insurance adjuster who once wanted to be a
police officer. "Im not trying to hide anything. I just want people to see me
as something other than a gay candidate."
Her Republican opponent talks about "hidden agendas." The conservative Utah
Eagle Forum, which helped "out" Biskupski during her unsuccessful race for a
seat on the Salt Lake City Council last year, plans a similar campaign in coming weeks.
"Once we found out about it, we helped get the word out she was living a
homosexual lifestyle," said Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka. "Why
wouldnt we? It is certainly our business when a candidate is committing sodomy and
living a blatantly immoral lifestyle."
The right-wing attacks mirror problems faced by other homosexual candidates around the
country. Three lesbians, all Democrats, have won primary races for Congress this year in
California, Washington and Wisconsin. A fourth lost in Massachusetts. All were, to one
degree or another, targeted by the Christian right.
But Biskupski faces an additional burden. Shes being criticized from within the
homosexual community, which fractured when Biskupski defeated lesbian activist Claudia
OGrady in a 1997 city council primary. For OGradys supporters, Biskupski
seemed reluctant to address the issue in public and simply wasnt "gay
"It caused a lot of dissension. There were and continue to be hard feelings,"
said David Nelson, chairman of the Utah Democrats gay and lesbian caucus. "It
split the gay vote and certainly played a big factor in Jackies loss."
OGrady declined to endorse Biskupski in the general election, which Biskupski
lost by 43 votes to a moderate.
"After talking to my campaign workers, what it came down to was the manner in
which she chose to use, or not use, her lesbianism," OGrady said. "Did it
suit her at this moment? Fine. Did it not suit her at this moment? Fine again."
OGrady, Nelson and others agree Biskupski is far more at ease with the topic in
this race. In some ways, it has played to her advantage.
"I think people are saddened when someone like Gayle Ruzicka comes along and wants
to drive a wedge into a district where there are a lot of minorities, a lot of elderly and
a lot of discrimination," Biskupski said. "That hurts the community far more
than anything Im capable of doing."
District 30, about 2 miles southeast of the city center, comprises mostly working-class
neighborhoods. The seat has been held for 12 years by Rep. Gene Davis, one of the most
liberal Democrats in the Utah House, and Biskupski, a member of the county Democratic
Party executive committee, is favored to win regardless of the controversy.
Her moderate Republican opponent is Bryan Irving, a contractor with no political
experience. Irving, 33, insists he hasnt made an issue of Biskupskis
homosexuality -- a claim Biskupski scoffs at -- and denies any connection to Ruzicka.
"I will say that I believe in traditional family values. I think homosexuality is
a choice and that it causes confusion and is destructive," said Irving, a Mormon and
father of four who lives a block down the street from Biskupski.
Attention to the issue seems to have created some backlash to the Eagle Forums
"I think its just the person. I dont think that stuff is
anybodys business, do you?" said Quma Anderson, an 88-year-old lifelong
"I just dont see how it concerns (Ruzicka)," said 20-year-old Rebecca
Roberts, who says she leans Republican. "I cant see how it makes a
Others in the district, however, like Robert Waite, find the whole issue unsettling.
"I guess Id lean toward voting for someone a little more traditional,"
Biskupski acknowledges the issue is likely not to go away even if shes elected to
the 75-member Utah House, where she would join a band of Democrats now outnumbered by
The Utah Legislature as a whole has not been friendly to homosexual issues. In 1996,
state senators of both parties held an illegal closed caucus to discuss homosexual student
clubs in high schools. Lawmakers came close to banning all clubs -- including the chess
club and Future Farmers of America -- to prevent gay students from meeting.
The previous year, lawmakers passed a last-minute bill strengthening Utahs law
against same-sex marriage.
Biskupski insists she has no intention of going near any of those issues.
"I believe Ill be able to get along. Im a good consensus
builder," she said. "I dont think people feel threatened by me."
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