Neil G. Giuliano is an American gay rights activist. He was the former four-term Republican mayor (1994-2004) of Tempe, Arizona. He chaired the commission in charge of hosting the third debate of the 2004 United States presidential elections. He has served as President of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) since September 1, 2005.
Question: Were you openly gay when you ran for office?
Neil Giuliano: No I wasn't, although it was not a real big secret, but I was not publicly out. And interestingly enough in the '94 campaign, after I got through the primary, the first election, and got into the general runoff election, there were some push/pulling that was done about did you vote for Neil in the primary; did you know he's single and has no family; would you support the civil rights of homosexuals if there was a ballot initiative in the community? A lot of tying it all together. And the press actually called me during that election and said, "We've heard about these calls. We'll write this story, if you think this is a story." And still in the closet and still really unsure of what it might mean if I was openly gay running for office-- this is 1990, '89/'90-- I said, "No, don't write that story, let's just sort of wait." And interestingly enough the press waited, they didn't write that story. It wasn't until two years into my 10 years as mayor that a lot of my detractors in the community, my adversaries, coming from a real strong religious right standpoint-- everyone know sort of what my sexual orientation was, although it was really not talked about at all. And we supported the local Gay Pride Festival, we supported the Lesbian Resource Project, as a community-- and these were things that the community had done before I was mayor but we continued to do them-- and they started coming to council meetings and they would say, "Why does the city support these things?" And finally one meeting they went over the line, in my view. They came to the meeting and said, "We know that one of you leads this lifestyle and we also want to know about the lieutenant in the Police Department, and we want- we heard that there's someone in the Water Department, and we understand there's these homosexuals"-- their term-- "all over the city now and we want to know why this is the case." And that was over the line for me. I'm a political figure, you can come after me, I signed up for this, but you don't go after public employees in a public forum and their private lives; whether it's true or not you just don't do that. So I walked over to the newspaper a couple days later, sat down in the editor's office and said, "Write the story." And he said, "We can write the story now?" Like yes, just write the story, let's get this over with. They did and the lead paragraph in the story was, "Ending years of rumor and speculation." So we dealt with it, put it aside. And it came up in elections, of course, because I had religious right opponents just about every election since then, but it was never a majority, a vocal minority, and we dealt with it and still moved on serving the city.
Question: Did you ever feel at risk?
Neil Giuliano: Oh sure. Yes, there were times where I received death threats. I'll never forget this one time I-- some folks from the Police Department came to me and showed me a picture of someone and they said, "If you ever see this person anywhere near you, leave and call us immediately." And it happened to have been an individual who was a bit deranged, had been serving some time, had written some hate mail. And yes, so yes, that happens. I think that's a fact of life for anyone who's going to be open about their sexual orientation in a place where it's not universally accepted that that's okay.
Question: What has changed since you ran for office?
Neil Giuliano: Oh a lot has changed. A lot has changed in society in the last decade. The visibility of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people has never been as high as it is. The support that we receive and the opportunity to talk about our lives publicly has never been as high as it is right now, and it created a kind of dialogue and a kind of opportunity to communicate with people that we have right now about these issues. And so really it's only a decade, 12 years almost, but it's really a world of difference in terms of the visibility for lesbian and gay Americans.
Recorded on: Mar 4 2008