On Tuesday, #LGBTQ candidates prevailed in state and local elections across the country. This includes Anthony Gomez, a 27-year-old deputy clerk of courts, who celebrated his election to the Cuyahoga Falls School Board. Since the vote count between Gomez and his opponent, Rob Huffman, was only 49 votes, there will be a recount. However, Huffman, and many of the community’s voters and leaders recognized Gomez’ victory.
Gomez spoke to Fusion on Friday about his campaign and his motivation to serve his community as a school board member.
What’s the story of how you decided to run for school board?
Well, I’ve been involved with my school district since I was 15 years old. Because, my freshman year of high school, we had a huge financial crisis and 60 percent of my freshman teachers got laid off. I was really angry about that, so I emailed our superintendent at the time and said, “what can I do?”. He said, “help us get our levy passed,” so I got involved, got that levy passed. When he formed a committee, I got on that committee. That committee was for our district to become ‘excellent’ rated by the state of Ohio. We accomplished that my senior year as I was leaving. And then I kind of followed everything that happened between now and then, but wasn’t as involved because I was going to college–I actually studied to be a priest for five years–so that was interesting, that’s a whole ‘nother life story. I left there in 2015.
I knew I was going to come back home and that I wanted to get involved in local politics again and I got reconnected with all the same people. It didn’t feel right to run that year because I was transitioning back to normalcy and healthier life. So, this year was the first opportunity I really had to run for office. I always knew I wanted to run for school board. Because I’ve got a passion for that. I know the history, I’ve been involved for so long, I can see what’s going on.
There were seven people running for three seats, it was the most contested school board race in Summit County.
I started in April because I knew it would be a hard fight. I pulled petitions at the end of April, started meeting with people. The first thing I did was to get to know as many PTA presidents as I could, because I know they’re the people who are going to talk to people. I started that last school year and then all summer long, dug in, got informed, got petition signatures, which is the worst part of the process. Because you don’t know–people can tell you they’re registered to vote and to find out they’re not, you’re super worried. School board doesn’t file until August. Once I knew my petitions were good, I was like, “I’m going to start spending money on the yard signs, get the campaign literature.”
Why did you run for school board? Why not city council?
Just because the schools are always what I’ve been most interested in. I know a lot about what’s going on in our city, I’ve helped a lot of city council people get elected over the years. But my passion is education, making sure that education is equitable for all. Making sure that there’s diversity in our schools and we recognize it.
One of the big things I want to do is get more diversity in our hiring process. Because Cuyahoga Falls is known for being a very white area–I was asked by an African-American woman in Akron, she goes, “Why do you think there aren’t more of my people teaching in our schools?” And I said, “Do you think that they feel comfortable?” And she said “no.” I said, “I think we just found our answer.” I want people to feel like it’s okay to be different.
So, I ran in the difference that I am. I’m gay, I’m young and my last name’s Gomez, I’m Mexican, too. I tried to embrace that as much as possible. We have a large Nepali population in our district. We have a lot of African-American people that a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge that we have, unfortunately. So, we have a lot of of diversity. We had a male cheerleader two years ago. I was excited about that. There’s a lot of things happening that a lot of people don’t want to recognize that are happening, and I want to highlight those things because I want people to feel comfortable being who we are. One of our PTA presidents is an African-American woman now. I’m super thrilled about that. People didn’t believe me when I told them that. They’re like “really?” I’m like, “Yes, isn’t that exciting?”
I’ve seen a number of trans people talking about running for school boards because of the Gavin Grimm lawsuit last year, the whole “bathroom” issue. So, that comes to mind with seeing more LGBTQ people in school board races.
That’s something that I want to look at. I want to contact Gwen [Stembridge] and see if they [Equality Ohio] have sample school board policies. I know they have sample legislation for cities and municipalities. But I want to see if they have sample–we call it policy in the school board world–if there’s sample policy that we can do both for hiring and for our students, to make sure our students are protected.
Do you know what kind of policy Cuyahoga Falls already has?
We have something but it’s not strong. And it only applies–I think–to the students and not to the hiring process. So, I want to do more about that. No matter who the kid is and what they believe, I want them to feel comfortable to come to school every day. They did a study of just the middle schools. I think it was like 12 percent of students feel unsafe coming to school everyday. And that’s just self-reported. So, that’s scary to me, that we have that many kids that are afraid to come to school for whatever reason it is. So, we have to do better to make them feel safe.
I already had one parent complain to me because there was an allegation that a kid got suspended for wearing a “make America great again” hat outside of school grounds. I don’t know that that’s true, I don’t think it’s true. But I said to her, that’s not okay either. If you want to think that, you get to think that. We need to educate kids that there’s a whole world of people out there that disagree with you and now’s the time to learn to live with them.
What were the biggest challenges you had on the campaign trail?
I think the biggest challenge was getting people to realize that I knew what I was talking about. Because I’m young. I went to one lady’s house and she just looked at me, she goes, “Start talking about school stuff,” and I start talking. She goes, “Okay, you actually know what you’re talking about, I’ll vote for you.” Being young, people think certain things about my generation of people that aren’t true. I’ve found that Millennials are probably the best human beings that there are because we don’t care about all those other things that generations above us want to use to define and divide one another.
Are you gay, are you young, did you vote for this person, is that how you feel, are you emotionally-driven, are you fact-driven, are you data-driven? They want to find all these things and use them to divide. And what I always tell people is it wasn’t me as an 8-year-old demanding a participation trophy, it was the parents of the other 8-year-olds demanding we get part–and I don’t care! We didn’t care. I didn’t want it. And so, they try to blame that. We’re the participation trophy generation, we’re the generation of, we feel like we deserve everything. I’m like, our parents told us we could be whatever we wanted to be. And we grew up and found it wasn’t true. But we had this optimism until that point that reality hit us in the face. The financial crisis, when you realize, which when I graduated, and you realize, you really can’t. You can only be what’s within your world of socioeconomic advancement.
And being gay wasn’t easy either. It wasn’t that bad, it was better than I thought it would be. But I did have one lady who told me she’s a God-fearing woman that wasn’t sure if she could vote for me because I sounded gay. And then I had one guy just scream “faggot” at me as he’s walking down the street. I’m like, I didn’t even realize I was that gay. I didn’t know that just walking he could tell.
What would you tell somebody who’s considering running for office, especially a young LGBTQ person?
I’d say go for it. The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and that lesson I’d give to anyone, is that if you put your name on the ballot, just be who the hell you are. Don’t hide any part of who you are, be who you are. Because the majority of people will love you for it and the people that never loved you will reveal themselves to you. And to be 27 and to have learned that lesson already, honestly, do it at 18. Find it out at 18, it’s the most freeing experience of my life to know how many people will have your back and also, we have folks that never really did. So, I say go for it. I never expected to win. I didn’t think I had a chance in hell. And look at me now. So, you never know what will happen. But people see dedication in you if you are a dedicated person. People see kindness in you if you are a kind person. I think people in my generation have those attributes more than people want to give them to our generation as a whole. And if you put yourself out there, people will see you for who you are and they’ll love you because of it.
Explain the recount to me?
So the state of Ohio, the law governing elections says that if it’s less than one half of one percent separating you, there’s an automatic recount. So, myself and the guy that came in fourth place are separated by .23 percent, which is 49 votes. But, our election process is such that, in Summit County at least, we vote on paper ballots and they scan them through. And it’s like 99.999 percent accurate. so I have no worries that that amount will change. But the only thing is that there’s late absentees and provisional votes. But provisional ballots tend to come from less wealthy areas which is where I did the best. So, I’m pretty confident.
What do you think about the future of LGBTQ rights in Cuyahoga Falls?
We have a mayor that is a Democrat and we were able to win back control of city council. And I know one of the things that the Democrats on city council want to do is file and pass a nondiscrimination ordinance. Partially because I’ve been bothering them about it for a while. I know that they generally believe in it but I’ve also been bugging them for a while, like “if you get the majority, you need to do this. If you win, you need to do this.” And they’re like, “well, we’re going to do environment,” I’m like, “you also need to do this.” So, it’s going to happen, I’m very confident.
We had a fight under the former mayor, of 28 years, very conservative Republican. Two people that were married in Washington DC at the time, two men. We didn’t have gay marriage in Ohio yet. So, they were married in DC, they came to the natatorium and tried to get the family rate and they were told that their marriage license was not valid and therefore could not get the family rate. One of the first things the new mayor did was change that.
Would you say that things have improved since then?
I think so. I think that people are more willing to be out in Cuyahoga Falls now, too. Seeing more people who have lived there for a very long time be like, “hey, we’re gay! We’re not just roommates.”