by Evelyn Bailey
It is November. What comes to my mind? November 3, Election Day and Thanksgiving. These two occasions are linked very closely. Our OUT Politicians give us a great deal to be thankful for. The Shoulders that our Rochester GLBT community identifies as the first openly gay candidate to run for political office is Tim Mains.
When Tim Mains began his career in public education, he believed that the word “gay” and “teacher” didn’t belong in the same sentence, let alone the same classroom. He assumed that he would keep his private life and his professional life strictly separated. After all, such beliefs and practices were common in 1971, when Mains graduated from Ball State University and left his home in Indiana to teach high school social studies in a suburb of Rochester, New York.
That belief, however, soon changed. During his second year of employment (and without the protection of tenure) Tim invited five guest speakers to his classes from the Gay Liberation Front at the University of Rochester. (“It wasn’t even my idea,” he confesses; “my students requested it.”) The tumultuous results locked him in conflict with his employer for the next year. By the end of his battle, he kept his job but developed some very different attitudes.
The district told the union that many people had complained. In actuality the only complaints came from parents of students who had not heard the speakers. Apparently those students reported false accusations about the speakers’ conduct. This lead to complaints not based on reality. Not one parent of a student who had heard the speakers was among the dissatisfied. Tim said, “I was overwhelmed by the power of the message. Visibility and reality had made a powerful and demonstrable difference.” The gay activist, Tim Mains, was born.
Tim joined the campus organization that had supplied his speakers, and later joined others to found a separate community-based group – The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley (GAGV). In 1975, he served as GAGV President. He applied his journalistic skills, developed from work on his college’s daily newspaper, to refine the quality and expand the readership of Rochester’s monthly gay newspaper – The Empty Closet. He took leadership positions in the New Your State Coalition of Gay Organizations (NYSCGO) and joined a number of rabble rousers, confronting candidates, challenging the media, and securing political attention for Rochester’s burgeoning gay and lesbian movement.
Anyone in the school district who still wondered about him had their suspicions confirmed when Tim was quoted as a GAGV Board member in the local daily newspaper in 1975. He was rewarded for his activism in 1977 by being appointed to Monroe County’s Human Relations Commission.
Activism came naturally to Mains, and so did politics. Tim was participating in peace marches while in college in the late 1960’s and described himself as a feminist several years before he would describe himself as a gay activist. He had been ringing doorbells for candidates before he was barely tall enough to reach them.
His father, a liberal democrat, had twice run for (but lost) political office, and campaigned and raised funds for Hoosier democratic candidates. Tim’s dad attended the 1960 Democratic Convention that nominated John Kennedy, and the entire family attended Kennedy’s inauguration. In 1968, Tim played a key role in Bobby Kennedy’s presidential primary win in Indiana, just weeks before the younger Kennedy was assassinated.
By the time Tim was persuaded to run for office himself, there was no question that he would be open about his sexual orientation. Even though he was prompted to run on the basis of much broader issues, Tim’s sexuality became the focal point in that campaign. Despite securing the Democratic Party’s endorsement, and the endorsement of every major daily and weekly newspaper in town, Tim won that first election by only 11 votes out of more than 38,000 cast. With that victory in 1986 Tim became New York State’s first openly-gay elected official.
For 20 years (1986-2005) Tim served on the Rochester City Council. He had an eye for detail and a commitment to social and economic justice. In 1990, as Council's Finance Chair, Tim uncovered a $2 million error in the school district's revenue estimates — a mistake that led to a $2 million refund to Rochester taxpayers.
During his legislative career, Tim continued to focus on the needs of children and families. As a member of Rochester's Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, he became the sponsor and legislative advocate for a municipal effort to identify and eliminate lead hazards in the city's housing stock. It took nearly ten years to convince city government that the problem required a significant shift in public policy. At Tim’s final Council meeting in December, 2005, City Council adopted what may be the most practical, targeted Lead Law in the country.
During that year Tim hoped to put his 20 years experience on the Rochester City Council and extensive experience with city schools to use by running for Mayor in 2005. A lifelong Democrat, he was defeated in both the September Democratic primary, and in the November general election.
For 30 years Tim worked as a teacher, counselor, and staff development director in the Greece Central Schools. His doctoral work at Columbia opened up new directions, and for the past eight years Tim has been the Principal of the Helen Barrett Montgomery School No. 50 in Rochester (NY) City School District. School No. 50 is a K-6 elementary school with 89% poverty rate and test scorers that a few years ago topped 90% for math and social studies.
On May 27, 2006, the anniversary of their meeting, Tim married David P. Gardner in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Tim and David are active members of the Rochester LGBT community. Activism and politics are still a part of Tim’s life.
Tim’s courage and pride, broke ground for others to run for political office as openly gay candidates. Bill Pritchard, appointed to fill a vacancy on City Council in August 2003, ran in November of that year and was elected to serve the remaining two years of the unexpired term of office. Bill ran for re-election as an openly gay candidate in November, 2005 and was elected to serve a full four year term.
During his current term, Bill was elected by his colleagues to a two year term as Vice-President of City Council. Today, we have Matt Haag, who ran a successful primary campaign for City Council by coming in 3rd in the Democratic Primary. His solid finish bodes well for his success in the general election.
This Thanksgiving the LGBT community of Rochester has much to be thankful for. Our OUT political candidates and leaders, have represented our needs and concerns with passion, pride and success. Don’t forget to vote on November 3rd. When you have the opportunity to meet our gay politicians and leaders, thank them and encourage them to continue to work for equality and justice. Shoulders To Stand On is thankful and proud to recognize the contributions all of our local openly gay politicians and leaders have made for all of our brothers and sisters to be free to be who we are and equal under the law.