A gay pioneer in Plano

Posted on 13 Mar 2008 at 10:37pm
By John Wright

Nichols is the youngest candidate ever — and the first openly gay candidate — to run for a seat on the Plano City Council


Justin Nichols: "Plano is conservative and it is traditional, but I think people realize you can be those things and be gay."

PLANO —Justin Nichols is charting new territory in more ways than one.

Nichols, 23, is already the youngest candidate ever to run for Plano City Council.

If Nichols wins his race for the Place 1 seat on May 10, he’ll also become the first openly gay member of the body.

"I don’t know that one is harder than the other," Nichols told Dallas Voice this week. "I think that each is solved by letting people get to know you."

Nichols also faces a third challenge when it comes to gaining the support of Plano’s small but growing LGBT community: He’s a Republican.

City council races are nonpartisan, but Nichols serves on the executive committee of the Collin County Republican Party, and he’s been a delegate to two GOP state conventions.

"My response to that is, true conservatism means limited government, and that includes staying out of your wallet and staying out of your home," said Nichols, who also noted that he’s not relying on the gay vote to get elected. "It often surprises me that so many in the GLBT community identify themselves as Democrats, when so often what they’re wanting is for the government to stay out of things."

Nichols, who came out when he was 16, captured about 40 percent of the vote when he ran for Plano’s school board in 2003 at age 18.

In 2004, he became the youngest person to serve on a city committee after being appointed to the Plano Heritage Commission.

"Age is not so important as who can get the job done the best," said Nichols, a 2007 graduate of Southern Methodist University.

Ditto for being gay, he added, which didn’t prevent him from being named runner-up for homecoming king in a class of 1,175 at Plano Senior High.

"I am known for being out front with people and being able to sit down and talk to anybody," said Nichols, who serves as teen court coordinator for Collin County. "Plano is conservative and it is traditional, but I think people realize that you can be those things and be gay."

Nichols said he’s unsure whether his sexual orientation will become an issue in his race against Pat Miner. But if it does, he said, he’ll be prepared.

"My opponent is a very fair man," Nichols said. "We both pledged to one another to run a clean campaign that is issue-based, and I trust that he’ll do that."

If elected, Nichols said he eventually plans to introduce a nondiscrimination ordinance covering city employees that includes sexual orientation.

"It’s something that I definitely feel passionate about," he said. "Will I bring it up the first day? No. It’s an ongoing goal of mine."

Nichols also said he would also work to reinstate $50,000 in funding for HIV/AIDS services that was cut from the city’s budget this year by Plano’s Cultural Affairs Committee.

"I find that really appalling," Nichols said. "It’s a public health issue, and I’d like to see us reinvest in those initiatives."

Nichols’ support for LGBT causes has earned him the backing of Morris Garcia, president of the 5-year-old Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

Nichols has also been endorsed by the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the nation’s largest LGBT political action committee.

Garcia, who lives in Plano, said although CCGLA doesn’t make endorsements, he supports Nichols. Garcia said he hopes other members of the organization, who number more than 100, also will back the openly gay candidate despite the fact that many are Democrats.

"He’s made some real contributions." Garcia said. "I think he has a good chance of being able to be elected. … I think that Justin should be given a fair shot, and hopefully they can maintain an open mind."

If Nichols wins, it will be a breakthrough for the entire suburban region north of Dallas, according to Bob McCranie, who heads the LGBT equality group in Carrollton, Plano’s neighbor to the south.

Dallas voters first elected an openly gay city councilmember in 1993.

Fort Worth voters didn’t elect one until 2007, the same year in which openly gay city council candidates were defeated in Cedar Hill and Frisco.

Plano, with a population of 250,000, is the ninth-largest city in Texas.

"We don’t all live in Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff and Uptown," McCranie said. "GLBT people live everywhere, so we need to keep working on the outlying areas. … I think it would be great if Plano got a councilmember because it’s just going to open the door in Frisco, Allen, Carrollton and everywhere else for people to realize that we’re not aliens with antennas on our heads. We’re not the scary people they make us out to be."

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, said a win for Nichols would continue a trend the group has witnessed across the country over the last three or four years. The Victory Fund is the only national organization dedicated to increasing the number of openlyLGBT elected officials at all levels of government.

"If people stay on their message and they talk about the things that are important to their communities, we’ve found they can get elected in places where we never thought they could get elected," Dison said.
wright@dallasvoice.com



This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 14, 2008

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