When a Barely Gay Campaign Ad Breaks Ground
Op-ed by Brett Smiley
When my first ad in my campaign for mayor of Providence, R. I., hit the airwaves, it took off immediately. It received media attention in dozens of local and national outlets, it got over 20,000 YouTube hits in the first two days, and people were talking about it everywhere I went around Providence. There’s a lot about the ad that sets it apart from the typical political ad. It’s lighthearted and humorous. It’s filmed in a style that The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and others have called “Wes Anderson-esque.” It’s the first political ad in American history, to my knowledge, that features a gay marriage proposal. And above all, it’s true to who I am — a policy wonk, a happily married gay man, and a candidate for mayor with detailed plans to create jobs, improve public education, protect the environment, and keep the streets safe in the city I love.
To tell you the truth, I never expected our ad to generate so much excitement because of the scene with my husband, Jim. I’ve been out most of my life, and Jim has too. It’s just who we are. And we’re fortunate to live in a city in which diversity is generally accepted and celebrated. The joke in that scene is predicated on the fact that I’m “the most organized person” my husband has ever met — so organized that I would even propose marriage using a PowerPoint presentation. The premise of the joke isn’t predicated on me being gay, and ironically, what made headlines was the fact that my husband was incorporated into the ad in such a non-newsworthy manner.
For the equality movement to truly be successful, the end goal cannot be tolerance. It has to be acceptance. It’s not about looking at this scene and deciding we’ve reached a point where it’s ok. It’s about looking at this scene and not thinking twice about it. Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern noted about my ad, "Openly gay candidates in deep blue states have been striving to tout their orientation in ads for a while, but none has ever incorporated it so naturalistically." I look forward to a time when gay candidates everywhere can feature a spouse in an ad without it being newsworthy or groundbreaking, but we’re not there yet.
I’ve been involved in LGBT causes throughout my career. Right out of college, I worked as an advocate for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. I’ve served on the campaign board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and helped elect LGBT candidates around the country. And after settling in Rhode Island, I helped lead the successful fight for marriage equality in the most Catholic state in the nation.
Being gay is who I am, just like being a progressive Democrat, a policy wonk, a “man with a plan,” and a passionate fighter for the people of Providence. I certainly never thought it would be newsworthy, though I appreciate the fact that my ad helped give Providence yet another appearance on the national stage. This is an incredible city, filled with art and culture, innovation and design, a world-class food scene and more, and it’s always great when people around the country stop to take notice.
This is an important election with a lot on the line, and together, we can make an enormous difference. I encourage you to visit my website, SmileyForMayor.com, check out my ad, and consider making a donation to my campaign.
In Providence, our diversity is our strength. We were the first capital city in the United States to elect an out mayor, and I look forward to continuing that legacy.
BRETT SMILEY is a Democratic candidate for mayor of Providence, R.I. You can contribute to his campaign at SmileyForMayor.com/contribute. Watch his campaign ad below.