Statement On Des Moines School Board Race

September 14, 1995

On Tuesday, September 12, Jonathan Wilson was defeated in his bid for re-election to the Des Moines School Board. Wilson, who is openly gay, was the target of a massive Radical Right campaign to unseat him following Wilson's coming out earlier this year. Wilson announced his homosexuality during a heated battle over a school board policy about the teaching of diversity. The results of the elections were dramatic. The top two vote-getters, Jane Hein and Harold Sandahl, were candidates endorsed by the Christian Coalition and supported by Bill Horn. Horn, formerly of Southern California and producer of "The Gay Agenda," the notorious anti-gay propaganda video, recently moved to Des Moines and has become a leading Radical Right operative in the state. Horn helped spearhead a massive voter drive designed to defeat Wilson, primarily through churches and literature drops. At the center of their rhetorical attack strategy against Wilson was their portrayal of Wilson as a "homosexual activist" who wanted to teach children homosexuality in the public schools. The voter turnout for the race was record breaking. Some 30,000 voters turned out, compared to the usual 7,000-8000. About 15,000 votes went to Hein and another 13,000 to Sandahl. This quadrupled normal voter turnout for a school board election and almost doubled the all-time high turnout set years ago. Following is a statement from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), attributable to Robert Bray, NGLTF field organizer.


The dramatic victory of the Radical Right in Iowa must serve as a wake-up call to all Americans of conscience who support an education system free of intolerance and bigotry. It is another scary reminder of the power of the Radical Right to marshal its electoral forces to defeat diversity and a quality education system free of prejudice. It also shows to what extremes the Right will go to capitalize on fears and untruths about gays and lesbians to affect local politics. We believe the dramatic voter turnout was fostered by a campaign designed to frighten and confuse voters using stereotypes about gay people. The elections do not bode well for the Iowa Presidential Caucus. We believe this race was just one step to agitate locally in Iowa and set the stage for a full Radical Right campaign to dominate the Iowa Primary. Indeed, Republican presidential hopeful Phil Gramm, realizing the strategic benefit of this local electoral force, endorsed the right wing campaign and mailed appeals to Iowans to get out and vote. Although unsuccessful in his re-election bid, Jonathan Wilson set an inspiring example of the bravery and fearlessness of gay and lesbian citizens who come out as gay public servants. His loss does not mean that elected officials or gay activists must return to the closet. Indeed, a record number of openly gay and lesbian public officials now sit in office around the country, from the US Congress to state legislatures to school boards and city governments. Des Moines School Board Race The school room is the next battleground in our struggle. If we can educate students about the truth of who we are and reveal as lies the stereotypes about us, we can educate a future generation of Americans that discrimination and violence against gays is wrong. The Radical Right understands this and has targeted schools themselves. We must continue to come out and challenge the untruths and stereotypes perpetrated by the Radical Right and its politicians. We must be ever more vigilant in our electoral and grassroots organizing. It is then that more gay and lesbian elected officials will take their rightful places at the table of public debate and governance in this society.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.