With his Irish heritage, the openly gay Mayor of the US city of Seattle, Ed Murray is often compared to fellow Democrat, John F. Kennedy. While he was visiting Ireland in September, Rob Buchanan asked him if he has his eye on the Whitehouse.
At the end of September, the Republican Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray took a whistle stop tour of Ireland with his husband Michael, meeting various representatives from the political and business worlds. This famously approachable politician was also here to talk about marriage and employment equality, and as a man at the vanguard of getting same-sex marriage and numerous other LGBT civil rights bills passed in his native state, he knows what he’s talking about.
I joined him and his husband Michael for breakfast to chat for The Outmost. Having read that Mayor Murray is a keen sports fan and a supporter of The Seattle Seahawks, I began our meeting by presenting a signed Dublin Hurlers sliotar, on behalf of The Outmost. This brought forward a burst of enthusiasm. “This looks like something they use in Quidditch in Harry Potter!” he laughed, “Thank you so much!”
Murray’s election campaign to become Seattle’s mayor heavily featured same-sex marriage. To begin with, I asked him if his openness made him susceptible to homophobic mud slinging from opponents.
“Sure there was mud-slinging, on both the gay issues and the marriage equality issues, which is a shame. I’m proud of who I am and of our LGBT community, so that was never going to stop me fighting for justice. I really hope people fight the good fight in Ireland for Marriage Equality too. Be brave, you know you are on the right side.”
Mayor Murray has been a fly in the ointment of conservative republicans in America for some time. He spearheaded anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people whilst simultaneously sponsoring legislation for domestic partnerships and then marriage equality. Surprisingly, he is a practicing Roman Catholic and his faith is extremely important to him.
At an event in Dublin hosted by GLEN the Mayor was asked about his thoughts on Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act. I asked him to expand on the opinion he gave.
“In the US, because funding doesn’t come from the public pocket, its legal for religious institutions to fire people because of their sexuality, and even their race, unfortunately. And they frequently do. Because of the separation of church and state, they are free under the constitution to hire and fire whoever they want. If they get public money, it’s a different situation. If it’s a Catholic hospital, for example, which may be receiving funding then they cannot discriminate so easily.
“Speaking of Catholicism, I am a fan of Pope Francis. I really do think he is a breath of fresh air, particularly issues of poverty. He is walking the talk. He’s better than his predecessors for LGBT people, but we have to see where all this goes. He’s definitely building bridges.”
As a successful, happily married gay man in an incredibly powerful job, Mayor Murray is undoubtedly a huge inspiration for gay people in America. I asked him what he thought the positive effects of having such a role model were on young LGBT people in Seattle.
“I think that anytime someone is successful who is an LGBT person, it sends a great message and can have a big impact. I know from personal experience how inspired I was in my late 20s and early 30s by the first openly gay elected official in Washington state, Calvin Anderson. He was a friend of mine and I managed his campaign. He was extremely influential and inspiring to me.
“In the United States low self-esteem, depression and suicide are a huge problem among LGBT teenagers. A few years ago, based on feedback from high school and college-age LGBT young people, we saw there was a need to connect them with successful role models in the community, so we set up a mentoring programme. So if you were interested in being a lawyer, we could arrange for you to learn from an out and proud, successful lawyer. It lets young LGBTs know that they can be anything they want to be in life.”
Speaking of ambition, and given the extremely influential neighbourhoods that elected him Mayor, such as University District and Capitol Hill, I wondered if Murray had his eyes on another, particular Washington address in the future.
With a humble smile, he said: “Never write anything off. Being the mayor of Seattle is one of the best jobs in the world, and I love it. Being the executive in a strong mayor system is so rewarding. I’m building policy in a police department, working with grass roots programmes, and dealing directly with communities. Every day has different opportunities. I could be spending time with people developing businesses one day, working with the homeless the next, and then consulting with the families of victims of gun crime. Our work on raising the minimum wage and marriage equality were also great legacies, which these roles honoured me with.
I chaired the house transportation committee and the affordable housing, civil rights bills and employment anti-discrimination drives. But there’s so much more I want to do.” Speaking of discrimination I asked the Mayor about his thoughts on Russia’s Gay Propaganda Bill.
“Well, the feedback we are getting is that American economic sanctions are having an effect. What we have heard from Russian folks is that we need to listen to the communities themselves. Likewise when it comes to Uganda. If it’s boycotts that work, then we need to use them. Not being able to reach out to the young people in Russia with these anti propaganda laws is awful. We can’t ignore it; we have to respond.
“There are a lot of American religious groups who are worsening the situation in Uganda. However, we have freedom of speech and we must respect that. As elected officials, we can use what Theodore Roosevelt called “the bully pulpit” to champion equality and try to counter hate speech. It’s our responsibility to use our position as a force for moral good.
“Having fought against the far right myself as an elected official for the last 19 years, I know they have to be challenged. You need to point out the hypocrisy and then they often back down.”
This kind of fearless advocacy for human rights is one of the reasons why Mayor Murray is constantly likened to another Irish American by the US media – the late JFK. I asked if this resonated with him.
“He was a great influence on my political career,” Mayor Murray told me. “Growing up in an Irish Catholic household in the 60s, he was a huge source of pride. I was obsessed with him as a kid.”
Before our meeting ended, I had one more question. What was the highlight of his trip to the Emerald Isle?
“Well visiting Galway our sister city was fantastic, but Dublin was also so welcoming. It’s an honour to be able to come to Ireland and promote Seattle. But to be honest, the highlight for me of coming to Ireland was a more personal. All those years ago my grandmother left Patrickswell in Limerick to become a domestic worker in Dublin. She then emigrated to New York City.
And now here I am, her grandson, getting to come back to Ireland and meet the Taoiseach and the President as the mayor of the city I love. It’s such a rewarding, humbling experience. I hope she would be proud.”
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