COMMENTARY: Father of gay soldier killed in Afghanistan campaigns for Minnesota legislature

"The Constitution our son died for was intended to protect rights, not deny them"

(Editor’s note: Melanie Nathan is a frequent contributor to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. This opinion piece first ran at LGBTQ Nation, a content-sharing partner with SDGLN.com.)

Jeff Wilfahrt is an unassuming man who has more than served his citizenry. He testified before the Minnesota state legislature against passing a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “between a man and a woman only,” supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT), and lost his son in an American war.

Yet his lifelong sense of parity compels him further, and he is now running for the Minnesota State House of Representatives, in a candidacy that has national implications for equality.

Wilfahrt is running in District 57B, a seat currently held by Republican Kurt Bills, a staunch pro-lifer, a self acclaimed “non-environmentalist,” who voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment.

The district has a reputation for being a moderate one, yet recent redistricting may have turned it red with Bills a clear Tea Party panderer.

Jeff Wilfahrt, married for 34 years to his high school sweetheart, Lori, is running on a three “E” ticket — “Economy, Equality and Education.”

“I’ve always had a strong sense of fairness and tried to help ‘right the wrongs.’” Wilfahrt noted. “This sense was never stronger and clearer to me as when the Minnesota State government moved to allow the marriage amendment to be placed on the November, 2012 ballot.”

For just on a year, the Wilfahrt family has taken charge of their son’s memory, refusing to assume spectatorship in a society which regards his remembrance as that of second class:

“My eldest son, CPL Andrew Wilfahrt (pictured, below right), was serving as an MP in the United States Army when he was killed by an IED near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The 552nd MP Company 3rd Platoon with whom he served named their combat outpost after him, COP WILFAHRT.

“Andrew was a great warrior and beloved by his fellow soldiers. He was also an openly gay soldier,” implores Wilfahrt with great pride, in speeches across the country.

A self-confessed introvert, the loving father of a Cornell graduate daughter and a younger son in graduate school at UNC, Wilfahrt has his campaign cut out for him, as he musters his own troops, with a familial courage, casting aside privacy, and determined to effectuate equality for all in Minnesota.

Wilfahrt has entered the race, not only to address the “discrimination and inhumanity” of the anti-gay marriage amendment, “but also to address the many inequities we seem to be building into our communities.”

Wilfahrt is tackling the equality debate with a unique fervor and schooled notions.

He has taken time to intellectualize the social complexity of speaking as an equality advocate to those in Red America. He has found the language he believes could penetrate the socially conservative Republican arena, and Wilfahrt has what many in his position do not have — the ability to hone traditionalist ethics as a way to communicate the imperative of equality.

He may well be the voice in the Minnesota House that shifts the paradigm — Wilfahrt’s campaign on the issue of equality notes with clarity of conviction.

“Our state constitution cannot become an avenue for infringing on the rights of those we disagree with by legislating through amendments,” he said.

“It’s a document that protects our rights and is not a vehicle for taking them away. A legislator’s job is to write and pass laws based on an informed sense of the whole community they serve.”

There are additional issues that set Wilfahrt apart from his competition, such as women’s health and choice.

When asked what he thought to be his opponent’s greatest weakness, Wilfahrt explained that the association with the GOP itself serves as the greatest barrier to the incumbent, as Minnesota’s legislature has only a 17 percent approval rating at this time.

Ascribing to the view that candidates who run on equality tickets, no matter where, whether in small local races or on the national stage, run for each and every LGBT person in this entire country, Wilfahrt’s campaign is of great national importance.

It is the cumulative effect of equality awareness that must permeate from each and every corner of this country, to impact the ultimate last frontier in the civil rights fight for freedom in America.

Hence Wilfahrt’s license to this beckoning seat implores LGBT America to support this campaign, with the much needed impetus to turn this “Tea Party flavor” into the sweet smell of an equality realization.

Melanie Nathan is an attorney and conflict resolution specialist who advocates for LGBT equality and human rights in San Francisco and internationally. Opinions and advice expressed in guest columns represent the author's own views and not necessarily those of LGBTQ Nation or SDGLN.com.

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