Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Gay Advocacy Unit Gets Director; the Former Republican from South Carolina Says He Intends to Start on Workplace Issues

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Gay Advocacy Unit Gets Director; the Former Republican from South Carolina Says He Intends to Start on Workplace Issues

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN BASINGER, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- Chuck Bowen doesn't sound like your typical gay rights crusader.

The 48-year-old openly gay South Carolina native made two failed bids for public office in his home state as a Republican and considers former President Richard Nixon to be his personal hero.

Bowen also admired the foreign policy and economic agenda of President Reagan, often maligned by many gays for his handling of the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s.

As the new executive director of the statewide gay advocacy group Georgia Equality, Bowen says he believes his GOP background will be an asset in his new non-partisan job, which he began Nov. 1.

"Gays and lesbians have to learn you can't identify with single-issue candidates," said Bowen, who now considers himself an independent after being registered as a Democrat in New York since 2002. "You have to look at the whole picture. You might not agree with a candidate's voting record or position on one issue, but you might agree with it on another."

For the last year and a half, Bowen has headed the non-profit Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley in Rochester, N.Y. In that time, Bowen helped open a youth center for gay and lesbian teenagers while doubling the organization's budget to $550,000 and adding five new positions, bringing the staff total to nine.

He had no intention of leaving the position until earlier this year, when a friend forwarded him the job opening for Georgia Equality, which had been without a leader in Atlanta since former Executive Director Allen Thornell resigned in April.

Bowen arrives in Georgia at a time when knowing how to think like a Republican will be a must for gay rights supporters. Earlier this month, Republicans completed their takeover of state government by winning control of the Georgia House. On the same day, voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, with 76 percent supporting the measure.

Many of the top lawmakers who will be guiding legislation through the state Capitol in the coming years are self-described conservatives, and some have said privately they would like to see more "moral values" laws passed, including a ban on allowing gays and lesbians to adopt or serve as foster parents.

Still, Bowen is optimistic that common ground can be found, noting he hopes to move the dialogue away from the lighting-rod issue of gay marriage and focus more intently on workplace equality, such as allowing sick leave and shared health care benefits for same-sex couples.

"It's going to be a long, hard task," he said. "But we've got to pick ourselves up, shake ourselves off and we've got to go forward."

Bowen is no stranger to Southern politics.

In 1978, he became one of the first students at the University of South Carolina to graduate with a degree in political speech-writing. …

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