This week we all witnessed an amazing act of courage happen right in front of our eyes. Chances are, if you were watching developments in Arizona, you saw the replay yourself, probably several times. But what we thought we saw, was not what actually happened. The reality was ever so much grander.
The news organizations billed Demion Clinco as “the only openly gay member in the Arizona House”, and as far as that goes, it is the absolute truth. Sadly, the Arizona legislature is not in need of a meeting room for the LGBT caucus. Maybe next election?
We were left with the impression that when Rep. Clinco took the microphone and told the Arizona House, “I am a proud gay man,” he was coming out to men and women he knew and had served with for at least a year and half, since the 2012 election. Surely he would have his detractors on the Republican side of the aisle, but he’d have his Democratic supporters too, right? We assumed he must have formed friendships with some of the legislators of his party. We hoped he had a wingman in another representative who had his back.
Considering SB1062, the legislation they were debating, that scenario would have been difficult enough. But the reality was, when Demion Clinco looked out at the faces of the Arizona House and told them the bill they were passing offended him personally as a gay man, he was addressing a room full of strangers.
Demion Clinco was not elected to represent Legislative District 2 which stretches from South Tucson through Sahaurita and Green Valley, and also includes Santa Cruz County. There was no campaign where the subject of his sexual orientation might have come up. No time to sort out those in his own party who stood with him and those who couldn’t be counted on.
Until a few days before fate placed him at the tip of the spear, Demion Clinco was not even a politician – he was a private citizen who restored historic buildings.
Demion Clinco was appointed to represent LD2 on February 4, 2014, just days before he rose to address a legislature hell bent on passing a bill that would legalize discrimination in the name of Jesus. He became a representative when State Senator Linda Lopez resigned. In Arizona, a panel of elected committeemen from the same party as the resigning lawmaker nominate three candidates and a Board of Supervisors selects one of them to fill the open seat. Demion was actually considered for that original senate vacancy, but state Rep. Andrea Dalessandro was chosen to replace Senator Lopez. Demion was then considered for the seat Rep. Dalessandro vacated and was chosen on a 3-2 vote by a five-member panel.
Representative Clinco told us himself that while he was a proud gay man, he was also a private one. “I am not the kind of person who goes to pride parades.” He told us. Truth. There are no mentions of anything LGBT on his Facebook page. No red equal signs. No photos with a significant other. None of the articles I found about his professional accomplishments so much as mentioned he was gay, and as I write this, there is no Demion Clinco Wikipedia page outing him.
Demion also told us, in his speech to the Arizona House, the reason for this caution: he had been beaten because he was gay. It made him careful.
I could not find any report of who assaulted Demion or when it happened. Was it high school bullies? Demion went to St Gregory College Preperatory Acedemy, a private non-denominational school of about 300. That doesn’t seem like a place where bullies would be tolerated, but we all know they exist everywhere. For what it’s worth, Demion is a Trustee at St. Gregory’s today, chairing the fundraising committee. You don’t raise funds for a school that allowed bullies to roam free, do you?
Was it as a young adult? As a young man Demion often said he wanted to leave Tuscon where he was born and raised. But after four years at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he earned a degree in art history, and after time spent at Istituto Marangoni in Milan Italy doing post-graduate work, he changed his mind and moved home.
At age 28, he opened his own business, Frontier Consulting Group LLC, which researches and prepares nominations for historic preservation projects. Demion said of his business:
“In a strange way, I just fell into it. I didn’t choose a path through college that was headed towards this. I grew concerned that the place I knew and loved was being torn down building by building. I decided to do this because it was my own growing concern that there is a need in our community for advocates of historic resources.”
Politics came into Demion’s life in the same way. Frontier Consulting worked to establish a National Register Historic District, which would give home owners a tax benefit if they maintain the historic qualities of their homes. That brought Demion to the notice of state Democratic Party officials, who made Demion an Arizona representative just days before he would be called upon to speak on the floor against the infamous “turn away the gays bill”.
“I am not the kind of person who goes to pride parades.” Demion told the Arizona legislature. “I was assaulted because I was gay.” Yet there he was, the only LGBT person with a voice in that assembly – a careful, private gay man who guarded his identity outside his own small circle of friends, facing a gathering of men and women who were determined to vote against his dignity. “I am a proud gay man.” he told this room full of hostile strangers as he stood alone, unwavering in the glare of the national spotlight.
Most people wonder how they will acquit themselves when it is their moment to stand up and be counted. Demion no longer has to wonder. He passed the test.
Photo from Facebook
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.