If Ross successfully wins his bid for a City Council At-Large seat this September, he’ll be the first openly gay citywide elected official in Boston. The importance of that distinction is not lost on him.
“The council needs to reflect the diversity of the city,” said Ross on Tuesday, taking a break from shaking hands at polling stations and encouraging neighborhood participation in the special Senate election. He hopes many of these people will turn out in the fall to cast their votes for him. Though Ross says his visions and priorities impact issues affecting all Bostonians – ensuring quality education and affordable housing, to start – he acknowledges that bringing a diverse perspective to the council would be vital to informing discussions around issues like LGBT homeless and bullying.
Ross, a South End/Lower Roxbury resident, is an immigration attorney by trade. But he’s also a longtime activist: he has served on the board of the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, and organizes an annual alternative St. Patrick’s Day event, well-attended by local politicos, in protest of the South Boston parade’s discriminatory policies. Though Ross said he has yet to encounter any strong backlash response to his status as a gay candidate, he says his coming-out experience attuned him to issues of discrimination.
“My family tried to protect me when I was younger,” said Ross, who grew up in San Diego. He moved to Boston 19 years ago for law school, bringing with him nothing but “a backpack and a pair of jeans.”
“They were worried I wouldn’t be able to get a job if I was openly gay. They tried to insulate me and protect me from the difficulties they thought I would experience as I entered the working world,” continued Ross of his family’s reaction to his coming-out. “That was really formative.”
Hence why workplace discrimination issues are of great importance to Ross, himself a small business owner, particularly as they relate to gender identity. And he helped lead an effort to amend language to the state’s Democratic Party charter, making it inclusive of transgender and bisexual people and creating four designated seats for those communities on the Democratic State Committee.
It’s not just LGBT concerns that are important to Ross. Issues affecting women and the working-class occupy a large part of his platform. The first in his family to graduate college, Ross was raised in a blue-collar background: his father a laborer and his mother a waitress. His foray into politics came via California Senator Dianne Feinstein, for whom he interned in the early ‘90s. “And her career pulled in part from the assassination of Harvey Milk,” said Ross of Feinstein, who discovered the pioneer’s body when she was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors,
and was the figure who announced his death to the stunned public. “I was inspired early on to work on issues supportive of LGBT quality and gun control,” said Ross. On a local level, he says that campaigning for Ayanna Pressley, the first African-American woman elected to the Boston City Council, was another formative experience.
Enhancing opportunities for female business owners and improving financial independence for all women is paramount, says Ross. “The Mayor has done great work with his Main Streets program,” says Ross of that economic development program, which includes distinct Women on Main initiative. “But there is more to be done. I was recently speaking to a librarian in Hyde Park. She has worked for the libraries for twenty years, and she’s worried about the cost of living and her pension. We need to take care of these women, and all folks, who have given their lives to the public sector. And all working families.”
Also on Ross’s agenda: investing in small business owners, improving public school education, encouraging development to boost Boston’s tax base, reducing resident property tax, and enhancing financial literacy and early childhood education programs. He wants to encourage lending to small businesses by investing city money in local banks, and to make housing more affordable by using the city’s municipal bond program to create mortgages for Boston residents. And more generally, he’d like to see individual Boston neighborhoods embrace their unique identities, becoming “destinations” that celebrate the city’s overarching diversity.
“Every neighborhood has its own cultural climate. I think if we can create local destinations, those neighborhoods will become safer and more accepting of diversity,” said Ross.
With his campaign off to a strong start, there’s a chance the City Council may soon be more diverse too.