Talking to Fred Karger

On March 23, 2011, Fred Karger was the first to announce he was running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. On June 29, 2012, he quit the race.

Before that he had worked at nine other campaigns, including Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He is the president of Rights Equal Rights, has investigated the Mormon church and the National Organization for Marriage‘s campaigns against marriage equality in California and Maine.

Fred was the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major political party in his country’s history. This interesting character agreed to talk to me a few weeks ago:

Why do you want to be president of the United States?I am very concerned about the direction of our country under president Obama. He has not done all the things I had hoped he would do, which was to bring our economy back, lift the spirit of Americans, and he has failed. And I think I have the ability to excite this country, to bring back its American spirit that Ronald Reagan was very successful in – and I worked for Reagan for seven years. I think it’s time for an openly gay candidate to run and be successful. I think that will do a tremendous amount of good for our civil rights movement all over the world.

One of the most common reactions to your character, to your background, is the shock of you being American, Jewish, gay, and a Republican. What do you have to say about this to those people who view U.S. politics in such black & white terms? You know, the Republican Party has done a lot of bad things, particularly in the last 35 years in our gay civil rights arena. All the bad that has come out of politics seems to come from republicans, and that is not the Republican Party I grew up with. It has become very different. It was never a party that was for discrimination. It was never a party that talked about social issues the way the candidates do now. So, I think it’s important that we do not give up on the Republican Party. To those of us who believe in a different Republican Party of inclusion, of bringing younger people in, of opening it up to women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, and everyone, I think that tide is now moving back. And in this country we’ve been successful because of Republicans.

Tell me about the campaign. What sort of feedback are you getting? Can you tell me about other openly LGBTs or straight allies in the Republican Party? Are there any gay nonprofits supporting you? I got my first endorsement from an LGBT state organization, Equality Michigan, and I was very honored. It’s the first time they’ve done that. And I’ve appealed to other state organizations. They’re a little slower to move because of my Republican connection and affiliation.

That someone who is openly gay can run for the highest office in our country sends a very strong message to them that they’re okay, that they can do anything they want in life, even run for president. I’ve spoken in high schools, to teenagers, to gay-straight alliances, in colleges and universities. I’ve been to clubs, bars, drag shows. You name it. I’ve been all over this country.

What is the value of having openly LGBT politicians? What is the value of having an openly gay candidate in your country? Just by virtue of candidates running, it sends a message that we are now stepping up to the place where we’re no longer hiding. I was in the closet for most of my adult life. I’ve always been gay, but I kept that secret. And I don’t want others to have to live the way I did. So, I think that’s an important message for our community, that it’s okay now. Times are very different. It’s still difficult to many of us to come out, but more and more are every day, younger and younger. To have openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender candidates sends a powerful message all over the world to our community, to our opponents, to our allies, that we are to be taken seriously, that we are going to have an impact on the political process.