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Robert Wrasse leading charge for installing young LGBT politicians
by Charlsie Dewey

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Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, Robert Wrasse recalled seeing a lot of anti-marriage-equality bumper stickers reading "One Man One Woman" when talking with Windy City Times recently.

Wrasse began to clue in to his sexuality as a gay man by the end of middle school and said the ensuing years weren't particularly easy for him. "I definitely went through some bullying in middle school and high school and hit a rough patch coming out to friends and family after college," he said.

Wrasse attended college at University of Michigan, majoring in political science. After graduation, he relocated to Washington, D.C., which he said brought an "immediate sense of relief."

"I was free to be myself and to slowly repair and grow relationships with family from a safe distance," he said.

He also began to discover a sense of purpose. "I also knew I wanted things to be different and easier for young LGBT people, who probably wouldn't find that same relief or safe distance, recognizing that many LGBT people have fewer safety nets than I had. At that point, I didn't know how exactly [to do that], but I was ready to be a part of that change."

Wrasse said that LGBTQ suicide and homelessness statistics troubled him, in particular.

"I saw the big opportunity for sweeping change with the 2008 elections and I wanted to be a part of it," he said. "I joined Congressman Jared Polis' first class of interns. He was the first openly gay man elected to Congress as a freshman. I wanted to learn more about law making and witness it first hand.

"Those were really exciting times to be in D.C. I remember marching down to the White House to celebrate the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and watching President Obama sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act."

For the next several years, Wrasse continued working in politics from both Chicago and D.C., joining President Obama's LGBT Vote team in Chicago, followed by a stint on the fundraising team. Most recently, he was working for Organizing for Action in Chicago.

"It was there that I met Amanda Litman, co-founder & executive director of Run for Something. We hosted a book signing for her. I was so excited to get supporters in the room. I'd read parts of the book and wanted everyone to hear her story."

He said it turned out "one of the people most moved by it was me."

Run for Something launched in January 2017 with the mission to "recruit and support young, diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future." Its goal is to "lower the barriers to entry for these candidates by helping them with seed money, organization building, and access to trainings needed to be successful."

The organization has had nearly 18,000 individuals express interest in running for public office since it launched.

In March, Wrasse was asked to join Run for Something as development director. "It's my mission to make sure we are able to continually recruit and support this wave of passionate young people who want to run for local office."

Diversifying the pipeline of political talent is of the utmost importance to Wrasse, who said LGBTQ people in particular struggle to see themselves as leaders. "You cannot be what you cannot see. I don't think many LGBTQ people see themselves as leaders, because so much of our history and the contributions LGBTQ people have made to society have just been swept under the rug."

He added, "Run for Something does that. We are here to help young people from under represented backgrounds. For me personally, seeing that 20 percent of our endorsees were LGBT in January is huge. It's what gets me to work every day."

Wrasse said since the organization launched, 50 percent of its endorsed candidates are women and nearly 50 percent are people of color. He also noted Run for Something has endorsed a total of 69 LGBTQ candidates, 45 of which have upcoming elections.

One of those LGBTQ candidates is Kevin Morrison, who is running for Cook County board commissioner in the 15th District. "One thing I think is so brave is he's running against the chair of the Illinois Republican Party. It's this passion to make change and not letting the status quo dictate whether or not you'll take a chance to lead your community."

Run for Something provides individuals like Morrison with several different types of support including contacts with other progressive organizations, local mentors and private sector experts, candidate guides that explain things like filing to run, fundraising, policy 101, tips for knocking on doors, and more.

Wrasse said for many young people troubled by the 2016 election results, there was an urgent desire to get involved in politics but also a question of how exactly to go about doing that.

"I am someone who most people would consider pretty connected, I've worked in politics for some time now, but if you asked me, before Run for Something, how to run for office, the first steps, I would not have been able to tell you," he explained. "Where do you start, how do I file paper work, what does it cost, who do I need to help me, am I qualified. That is the problem that Run for Something solves."

As to whether or not he'd ever run for public office, "I won't rule anything out, but I think it's very important to be ingrained in the community that you want to become a leader in. You have to have real relationships. I've moved back and forth between Michigan, D.C. and Chicago so many times that I'm looking forward to being in one place long enough to really see how I can be helpful and to start volunteering my time to solve problems and recognizing whether or not I'm the right person to run.

"There is no shortage of men holding elected office in our country. Right now I'm a lot more passionate about getting women and people of color and trans people to see themselves as leaders and running for local office."

While Wrasse said he doesn't expect to have much downtime in the coming months due to midterm elections, when he does have time to relax he spends it checking out '90s cover bands, running Chicago's lakeshore path and spending time with his partner, Mark Elledge.

What is Wrasse's parting message? It is "We can't look to others to lead. If you are passionate about solving a problem in your community and ready to put in the work and run a good, strong campaign, we'll help you out."

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