"I feel that career success is one of the most prominent reasons people are afraid to escape the closet. I just hope young gay men and women will begin to realize you can lead a successful, joyful life as an openly gay person."It might seem outrageous to think that there are still a handful of states that have ZERO openly gay elected officials. South Carolina was one of those states until 2008 when Nick Shalosky gathered enough write-in votes to be elected to the Charleston County School Board. Shalosky, a senior at the College of Charleston, has been recognized for his efforts in many publications. He was recently named one of the most influential 40 people under 40 by The Advocate, a major gay and lesbian magazine.
We asked Nick about what it is like being the first openly gay elected official in South Carolina, his take on staying in the closet for your career, and even his opinion on openly gay blogger Perez Hilton.
GLUEamerica: You were recently elected to the Charleston County School Board, which made you the first openly gay person in South Carolina to be elected to anything. Do you feel like this was way overdue or is a conservative state like South Carolina not ready to elect openly gay people?
Nick: Considering South Carolina was one of five states that had not elected its first gay elected official, I feel that an openly gay person being elected was long overdue. We have had openly gay candidates run in past elections, but none of them have succeeded. I feel that the candidates that have run previously were looking to jump the gun and run for offices that were too large. I feel that openly gay candidates must run for very local offices to show we care about our local community and can do a great job in positions that have little to do with gay marriage, don't ask don't tell, or ENDA.
GLUEamerica: Has your sexuality been an issue at the Charleston County School Board? I'm sure many people have heard by now about it.
Nick: I'm not aware of my sexuality being an issue so far. I have only been encouraged and welcomed by the members of my board, and I am very grateful to them for being so accepting and cooperative.
GLUEamerica: Have you always been open about your sexuality, such as at work and with your family? If so, how has this affected your life? Have you had any bad or good experiences? If not, why? Are you afraid something like this would give you less opportunities? Basically, what is it like being gay in America or even in South Carolina today?
Nick: I "came out" my sophomore year in High School, in a very conservative town in South Carolina. I was the first gay person I knew, but overall had a good experience coming out. Of course there was bigotry by some, but over all my friends and family accepted me for who I really am/was. I think it is very important to show LGBT men and women that you can still be very successful and happy as a openly gay person. I feel that career success is one of the most prominent reasons people are afraid to escape the closet. I just hope young gay men and women will begin to realize you can lead a successful, joyful life as an openly gay person.
READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW AFTER THE JUMP!
GLUEamerica: It seems like the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell have been gaining a lot of national attention recently. Do you think the Obama administration is doing an acceptable job in handling these issues? Could you give any suggestions to them?
Nick: These issues are very important to the gay community. Although I think there are many more overlooked issues, these are the ones that grab national media attention and legislative action. I feel that the Obama administration has broken the hearts of many LGBT people around the country and more specifically LGBT people in the South. I believe this because many members of our community fought night and day to get a person who supported our cause elected, and obviously it paid off. I think its now time for President Obama to uphold his promises to our community. The one thing that has irked me about his administration is that he has been preaching "bipartisanship," but it seems that its only the liberals that are having to be bipartisan.
GLUEamerica: Many conservatives have warned about the "gay agenda." In your opinion, what is the "gay agenda" and how is it affecting politics today?
Nick: I'm not a fan of the term "gay agenda." I prefer to consider our movement as an effort to develop the civil rights of active citizens in our country. Although the national media does not see it this way, I believe that most consider the "gay agenda" is our community seeking special rights; however, I believe we are fighting for the goals shared by every American: the ability to have a job based on merit, the ability to serve our country, the ability to have a family, and the ability to protect our lives.
GLUEamerica: Do you think that gay is the new black? Why or why not?
Nick: I think it is very hard to compare the two communities as the same because our histories are very different. Also, I believe that the goals of the gay community and the goals of the African-American community are very similar, and should work together to achieve those goals.
GLUEamerica: What would be your advice to someone who is gay and thinking about getting in to politics? Should they be open with their sexuality from the beginning? Do you think it would hurt or help their chances?
Nick: I would suggest to them to be as open and honest as possible. There is a stigma of politicians for being liars and cheats, but we must overcome that stigma by being open about our lives and who we are, but it is also important to remember that although being gay can have a large impact on our individual lives, it is not the only thing that makes us who we are. We all believe in issues concerning our local communities such as schools, taxes, roads and highways, and job creation just like all Americans.
GLUEamerica: What are some of your future plans? I know you are planning on going to law school. Will you be going to a school in a more liberal state or staying in the south? Do you think the climate is acceptable for gay lawyers in the South?
Nick: I am trying to go to law school after my last year at the College of Charleston. There is no guarantee where I will end up going, or doing after law school; however, I would consider a successful career one that was in service to my country and the citizens within its boarders.
GLUEamerica: Perez Hilton has been on the national scene recently with the Miss California and the Black Eyed Peas incidents. Do you consider him a gay rights activist? Why or why not? Do people like him hurt or help the gay community?
Nick: I normally don't follow Hollywood gossip, or entertainment news, and it often saddens me to see national news commit so much time to scandals and gossip. I don't read Perez Hilton's blog, and don't plan to start any time soon.
GLUEamerica: Lastly, who is your personal role model within the gay community today?
Nick: I have many role models not only in the gay community, but a few that stand out are Harvey Milk, Dustin Lance Black, and Barney Frank.