News » Janovy

Gay Games

A political campaign gets bitchy.


June 7 was a sultry Friday at Barney Allis Plaza, where the gay-pride celebration opened with a disco version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Cheers rose from the crowd, and drag queens took the stage for a night of raucous festivities.

Missing were a couple dozen stalwarts of the city's gay political establishment, who were having a weenie roast at the Rockhill home of Representative Tim Van Zandt. Eight years ago -- when there was no gay political establishment -- they'd worked to get the openly gay Van Zandt elected to the Missouri House. A burly wonk who'd cut his teeth on Harriett Woods' 1982 Senate campaign, he endured four terms among yahoos who could have stepped out of the Capitol's famous Thomas Hart Benton frontier murals.

But term limits caught up with him this spring; at the same time, redistricting erased his seat, handing his Midtown constituents to Marsha Campbell. That's fine by Van Zandt. She is his best bud. They've voted nearly alike since Campbell earned her seat in 1996. Although gay issues rarely see any light in Jefferson City, Campbell, who is straight, has repeatedly tried to repeal Missouri's sodomy law that criminalizes adults for making love in their own bedrooms.

So the night of gay pride, Van Zandt was grilling hot dogs as a fund-raiser for his girlfriend.

Back at the festival, though, drag queens were plugging a newcomer. Terry Norman wants to inherit Van Zandt's legacy as the only gay man at the Statehouse (that we know of, anyway).

"It's important that there be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender representation at all levels of government," Norman says. "It's not enough to just have your friends. [We need to make sure] that our voice is there."

Norman says he laughed when friends approached him last fall about running for Van Zandt's soon-to-be-empty seat. At sixty, he'd never had political aspirations. He has an office on the Plaza, where he works as a counselor to "married gay men, lesbians with heterosexual spouses, their families and children." But he'd begun to re-evaluate his life two years ago when his boyfriend committed suicide "after a lifetime of depression." A former minister, Norman had also been inspired when he was among gay protesters arrested at the Methodists' national convention in 2000. "I was lying in my jail cell in Cleveland, just me and the cockroaches, and I don't ever remember a time when I felt more free," Norman says in a decent Martin Luther King Jr. imitation.

But after Van Zandt's seat no longer existed, Norman decided to run for the House anyway -- against Van Zandt's straight friend.

Van Zandt is incredulous. In 1994, his first, now-forgotten opponent tried to make Van Zandt's orientation the sole issue -- an ill-advised strategy, since Van Zandt was well-versed on many topics. "Within the gay community, Terry Norman is making us go backwards," he says. "I had hoped that we had progressed beyond just 'I need to be elected because Tim's gay and I'm gay.'"

So when the gay Four Freedoms Democratic Club met to make endorsements for the August 6 primary, its members had a tough choice. They had spent years backing Van Zandt and corralling a gay voting bloc to leverage friendships with straight politicians. After excruciating debate, they endorsed Campbell, based on the mature theory that, regardless of sexual orientation, loyalty to one's political friends encourages loyalty in return. They didn't want to lose credibility by looking like fickle queens.

But Norman's supporters decamped and immediately formed the KC Pride Democratic Club. They printed up their own endorsement fliers -- the names ripped off from the Four Freedoms slate, except that they changed Campbell to Norman.

Add a comment