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Gay man leads movement for voter registration
by Charlsie Dewey
2010-09-22

This article shared 3050 times since Wed Sep 22, 2010
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Lee Reinhart, director of We Are Voting Illinois ( WAVI ) , wants you to vote and make your voice heard in this year's elections. "We have families, we have financial and employment concerns, health care concerns and, of course, we have civil rights concerns. With concerns as broad and important as those, we need to have a voice and a vote," he explained, talking about the LGBT community, specifically.

Reinhart understands the importance of having a voice and using that voice to make a difference and, for the past four years, he has stepped out into the spotlight as an advocate for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) , a law he was directly affected by in 2002.

"I served in the Navy from 1995-1999. The last two years I served openly as a gay man," Reinhart said. "I never once had any problems. After the events of Sept 11, 2001, I decided to return to active duty but chose the Coast Guard. I entered the Coast Guard in the spring of 2002 but within six months I was being discharged under DADT simply because I went to a gay bar in Portland, Ore. It has been my mission and deep passion since to see DADT repealed."

Reinhart saw first-hand how subjective DADT is. He explained, "I was definitely out my last two years in the Navy and never once had any issue. I, along with three other openly gay men, was blessed to be on a ship where we were judged by the content of our character not by our sexual orientation. We served alongside men who saw us as their friend or brother. The law is so subjective that a military member could be at one command where he or she is accepted and is allowed to serve, then moves on to a new command where the commanding officer may be homophobic and chooses to end the service member's career. That is what happened in my case."

The experience influenced Reinhart to believe in the power and influence of each individual and led him to his current involvement with WAVI.

"I realize that one can't just sit on the sidelines and hope someone else fixes the problem for you," he said. "I got myself involved in every way possible and the last three to four years have been an intense ride for me, making trips to D.C., lobbying, marches and town halls. [ I continued ] to tell my own personal story of how I was affected by DADT. I believe the more stories people tell the more people listen and take notice."

He continued, "I am extremely excited to be in the city and working with WAVI. I love being out on the streets meeting folks. My biggest hope is that folks sense the passion and drive I have, begin to feel it themselves, and decide to do their own small part and become part of the process. That starts by getting registered."

Out on the streets for WAVI, Reinhart encourages passersby to stop and register to vote so that they too can make their voice heard, make their story count.

"Regardless of your partisan views, the LGBT voice needs to be heard on the issues," he said, citing examples from the upcoming election, "In this year's Governor election, LGBT voters have a choice between a candidate who supports abortion rights and another who opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. LGBT voters have a choice between a candidate who supports the pending civil union legislation and a candidate who wants a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. LGBT voters have a choice between a candidate who opposes any form of gun control and a candidate who believes in constraints on assault weapons. These differences, regardless of a voter's views, represent a choice for LGBT voters."

Reinhart has a lot of help hitting the pavement this year: "We organize volunteers from all kinds of non-profit organizations and support the registration effort so that volunteers only have to show up and work with prospective voters. We try to have volunteers on the streets and in the places people visit. In a non-partisan way, we try to raise awareness of the importance of voter registration and voting. We also try to remind folks who have moved since the last election that they need to re-register."

WAVI volunteers are out working to register voters every day of the week. On weekends, they are stationed at "L" stops and during the week they are often invited to register voters within businesses, community centers, health agencies and even coffee shops. This past Saturday, Reinhart and his volunteers concentrated their efforts on the North Side, in the 40th and 48th wards. Reinhart said, "Volunteers are stationed at stores like Jewel [ and ] Dominicks, along Clark Street in Andersonville and the area 'L' stops. Rain may reduce foot traffic, but does not deter us."

"In elections all over the country we have seen that only a handful of votes can determine the outcome of important races. In the February Republican primary for Illinois governor, the winning candidate prevailed by less than 200 votes statewide. In other words, every vote matters and, as a community, we need to embrace the political responsibility, regardless of partisan views, that comes with being visible and influential.

"Also, in terms of convenience, this is the first year Illinois voters can vote by mailing in a ballot without needing an explanation for submitting absentee; Illinois now makes it easier for voters to participate."

So, what's next for Reinhart? He will continue to work as an advocate to repeal DADT, and said, "Once the law is repealed I will immediately, day one, begin to look at my options and begin the process of re-entering the service if allowed to do so. It depends on the circumstances and my age at the time if I will choose active or reserve duty, but I will do my best to get back in."

The last day to register to vote for the Nov. 2 election is Tuesday, Oct. 5. Visit www.chicagoelections.com or www.cookcountyclerk.com .

Early voting will be offered at all Chicago locations Tuesday, Oct. 12, through Thursday, Oct. 28.


This article shared 3050 times since Wed Sep 22, 2010
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