by Mike Halterman
Earlier in the week, we linked to our facebook page the story of 23-year-old Aaron Darr, who was interviewed by the gay gossip website Queerty. We asked Hotspots readers if they would vote for Darr. He is interested in running for either the Florida Legislature or U.S. Congress in 2016, representing central Pinellas County.
Should Darr choose to run and be elected in two years’ time, he would break many Florida records: he would be the youngest person ever elected to the Florida Legislature or the U.S. Congress from Florida; and he would be just the third openly gay person elected to the Florida Legislature (or the first to Congress from Florida). Perhaps most notably, however, Darr would be the first-ever elected official in Florida who has publicly acknowledged his HIV-positive status. He has lived with HIV for the past six years.
There was an exceptionally large response to Aaron Darr’s story on social media, so I wanted to bring readers more of this story. I interviewed Aaron Darr in a special Hotspots online feature. I thank him for making the time to speak to me.
What inspired you to get involved in politics?
I have always been very involved and interested in politics. I remember going to the library in elementary school and every week I would check out books on President Kennedy, President Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, and First Lady Hillary Clinton. I was so fascinated by their stories and the hardships they faced in the face of such tough odds. I often laugh to myself because the elementary school I attended was actually called Clinton Elementary in Clinton, Ohio.
In 2008, the Democratic primary between Senators Clinton and Obama became my first opportunity to use my voice as a young person. I watched the debates and decided that I thought that Senator Clinton would be the best President, so I signed up, knocked on doors, and promoted her candidacy wherever I went.
What drew you to Hillary Clinton? Why do you think she would be a good president?
I am proud to have supported Hillary Clinton in the past. I still do support Secretary Clinton in whatever contribution she feels she can make.
When Hillary ran for President in 2008, I was immediately drawn to her record and her experience. I realized that more so than any First Lady or Senator, that she had taken an active role in the White House and in the Senate focusing on initiatives concerning women and children, healthcare, and the ways in which we could all work together regardless of party affiliation to do what is in the best interest of our country, oftentimes focusing on the economy and job creation with President Clinton and ensuring that the middle class was strong and [the country was moving] forward. The struggles I had gone through, being raised by a single mom, were the struggles I knew Senator Clinton understood, and [I knew she] would fight for middle class families like my own and others in the state of Ohio.
And yes, I believe very firmly that Secretary Clinton is more prepared and qualified than any other human being to become the 45th President of the United States of America and if she decides to run, I will support her.
You’re considering a run for the Florida House or U.S. Congress in 2016. Why do you think you would be the right person to represent your district?
Being that I am originally from the state of Ohio where I was raised Baptist for the first 19 years of my life, I understand what it is like to come from a state where you have the views and beliefs of people from all walks of life [represented], just as we do in Florida. Conservative or liberal, I understand others’ views and I understand that many people feel that government is not the solution to their problems and that government isn’t working for them or their families.
I can’t name many elected officials who really believe in the idea of bipartisanship and working across the aisle, which is why I have considered running for office in the near future. The truth is, I do not know what kind of contribution I will make, but if no one else steps up, then I will because I want to help others who are struggling to make it. Everyone is hurting right now, economically, financially, and those [people] are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and countless others across this state.
Pinellas County and Florida need someone who is going to represent all of the voices of their constituents, not just the ones who are members of their party. People feel invisible to their government and I am stepping up to say that we are not invisible and that others, those in Pinellas County especially, are not invisible to me.
I have spent a lot of time in this community since 2012, having lived here in Florida and in New York City. I woke up one morning and realized that I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore because there are too many in the state of Florida who are hurting right now. Whether it’s been my own struggles that I have faced in life, I understand the struggles of the average middle class Floridian because I lived through them and still sometimes do.
Whatever decision I make, I will focus on jobs and the economy, which I believe not enough elected officials are talking about. The economy is one of my biggest passions and I like the idea of being able to solve other people’s problems, which is why I feel that God is calling me to do his work and make a contribution to ensure that everyone can live up to their own God-given potential. We have so much opportunity here within Pinellas County and other candidates and representatives aren’t capitalizing on the very opportunities that we have here, which I have studied and plan to expand upon and help encourage smart, fair, economic growth for small business and those who are seeking work.
What would you do to make life better for citizens in your district? What do you feel are pressing issues that need to be solved?
I want to encourage inclusive government where all of the constituents have active roles and feel as though their voices can be, and are being, heard. I believe I can better improve the lives of those in Pinellas County by ensuring that I address their basic needs to be able to ensure that they are taken care of, which more so than any other issue, is focusing in on job creation and the economy.
There are so many other important issues going on in Pinellas County, such as the rising cost of insurance premiums on flood insurance, Medicaid expansion, continuing to build upon and improve The Affordable Care Act, putting forth comprehensive immigration reform so we can ensure that we all have a shot at ‘The American Dream’ legally, decreasing rising college tuition costs, and reducing gun violence in Florida while upholding and protecting the Second Amendment and our families. There are so many issues to focus on and so many solutions I have in mind to help those struggling to make it. People feel overwhelmed right now and I plan on making a contribution in any way that I can to ensure that those in Pinellas County have every God-given opportunity to succeed economically, personally, professionally, and socially.
You’ve publicly revealed your HIV status. You said, “Politics can be tough and sometimes people can say very hurtful things when there are those who strongly oppose you and what you believe in.” When do you think we’ll reach a time when discussing one’s medical history won’t be used as a “smear tactic”?
Well, I think the same can be said of anyone who is disabled or considered to have an illness. Whether it’s arthritis, diabetes, a physical ailment, or being HIV-positive, people who have suffered from a disease (such as a chronic disease like HIV/AIDS which is no longer terminal) can relate to the fact that their diagnosis should not put a limit on what they can achieve.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we will ever reach a time where people will stop throwing the low blows that others often do in politics, attacking one’s race, sexual orientation, gender, medical history, or age. I would like to think that others wouldn’t do that and live their lives by the Golden Rule, but it’s not realistic. People will say comments, which yes, can sometimes be very hurtful, but I understand it comes with the territory. Before I decided to come public with my story and that I am strongly considering running for the Florida House in District 66 or U.S. Congress in District 13 in 2016, I read up on Supervisor Harvey Milk.
I realize that times are different and that ignorance and hate will always exist. If you don’t stand up and let those comments roll off your back, then you actually do more harm than good. You immediately become a part of the problem when you don’t raise your voice. For me, it’s like Rocky, you get knocked down, but you have to get back up and keep on fighting, which is what I will always do no matter what is directed at me or said about me.
If you would like to learn more about Aaron Darr, please visit his website at www.aarondarr.com.