Utah’s Democrats chose last weekend to elect their new chairman and made history at the same time by selecting Jim Dabakis, an openly gay man, to take the party reigns.
Dabakis is believed to be Utah’s first openly gay leader of a major party. Speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, Dabakis was keen to point out that his sexuality had not been made an issue:
Dabakis, who is an art dealer and co-founder of both the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah, said his election shows how fair-minded the people of Utah are.
“I visited all 29 counties during the last five months, and people were very interested in what kind of a job I would do and what my experience was,” Dabakis said. “The whole gay thing just simply did not surface as an issue. People are broad-minded in Utah, and they want to know if you can do the job or not.”
Dabakis’ wish to reach out to moderate Republicans and Independents who have recently found themselves disenfranchised as the far-right has grown in prominence has been cited as one of the ways in which Dabakis will draw more support to the Democratic party. Dabakis has also emphasized that he wants to reach out to members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Debakis is quoted as saying: “I want to talk to LDS people and I want to tell them that we want them in our party, we need them in our party. We recognize that they have a great deal to contribute. … As chair, my commitment is to make sure that LDS people feel comfortable in our Democratic tent. Sometimes, we haven’t been as warm and as inviting as we should be.”
This is, perhaps, where Debakis’ sexuality might be important if only by virtue of the fact that Dabakis, as an openly gay Democrat, has the potential to build bridges with LDS members. In so doing he stands a chance at eroding the notion that gay rights and other progressive causes must always come at the expense of religious rights and freedom.
The Church was of course found to be one of the biggest donors to the Proposition 8 anti-gay marriage campaign in California, so a chance at better relations can only be a good thing.