Fred Karger, the first openly gay presidential candidate, spoke to BGLSA students Thursday. George Hinchliffe / THE DAILY GAMECOCK
Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger took a break from his South Carolina campaign tour Thursday night to share a positive message about LGBT progress in American politics with 25 Bisexual Gay Lesbian Straight Alliance members and supporters in the Swearingen Engineering Center.
BGLSA president Tyler Murphy, who received an email from Karger last Wednesday, felt the timing of Karger’s message was appropriate for USC’s LGBT community in light of recent controversy over Southern Baptist Convention President G. Bryant Wright’s proposed reception of a USC honorary degree at this year’s graduation ceremony.
“The LGBT community has actually been receiving a lot of positive support, so with that and having Karger here, I have full confidence that it will be settled,” the third-year criminal justice student said.
Karger, a former political consultant for the Republican Party and adviser to former presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is the first openly gay candidate in history to run for the office of president of the United States, as well as the first to seek a nomination from a major political party. His campaign was officially commissioned March 30, much to the surprise of some of his fellow Republicans, but he said he had been considering running since the summer of 2008.
“By then, I was out, and the world was open to me,” the spry, 61-year-old Illinois native said. “I was free, and everything had started falling into place.”
Karger has spent the past 35 years in the political arena, but he said a majority of that time was spent living a “double life,” fearing that knowledge of his 11-year relationship might cost him his job and his family.
However, Karger found confidence in advocating for gay rights issues while living in Laguna Beach, Calif., where he started a campaign to save a local gay hub from being bought out. Shortly after, the California legislature passed Proposition 8, or the California Marriage Protection Act, denying the validity of same-sex marriage, and Karger adopted a “no more Mr. Nice Gay,” mentality. He co-founded Californians Against Hate (now known as Rights Equal Rights), a political action committee dedicated to exposing and boycotting major donors to the “Yes on Proposition 8” campaign. He led several boycotts and major investigations of “big-hitters” such as the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel chain and Bolthouse Farms. In 2008, he successfully filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission against the National Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for failure to report nearly $36,000 of involvement in the campaign.
“I want to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to contribute to a campaign that takes away the rights of the minority,” Karger said.
In addition to gay rights, Karger said his No. 1 priority is improvement to public education. A self-described “independent Republican” who still believes in small government, a strong national defense and limited spending, Karger said he hopes to change the party from within to the more moderate Republican Party he knew in the 1950s.
“We have to take a tough approach, but we can’t lose sight of the people we serve,” Karger said.
Since the announcement of his candidacy, Karger has been traveling the country, addressing LGBT student organizations on several college campuses. He shared a message that he had received from one high school student, thanking Karger for giving him hope through his campaign that, one day, he might be able to marry the person he loves.
“Notes like this are why I’m here,” Karger said. “I hope to make a difference in a lot of lives.”