Former GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger visits Concord High School to promote film, positivity

Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2014
Former Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger was anxious yesterday afternoon at Concord High School.

Karger, who became known during the 2012 race as the only openly gay person to ever run for president from a major political party, is in New Hampshire to promote his new documentary, Fred. The film follows Karger as he weighs a potential run, and the public response to a gay candidate.

Yesterday, he focused only on the welcome he’d receive from an auditorium filled with high school students.

“I was a little apprehensive today because this isn’t just a LGBTQ group like we’ve been doing, or a showing for friends,” Karger said afterward. “This was not just the largest group, but certainly the most diverse.”

The roaring applause and cheers he received were a reminder that high school has changed.

“The students couldn’t have cared less (about my sexuality), at least most of them,” he said.

Karger was a guest of Tide Pride, the high school’s gay and straight alliance. His two-hour visit included a screening of Fred and a question-and-answer session with students.

“I’d like it to reach out to our LGBT students. I think it’s great for them to see adults who are successful, out and open,” said Heather Oullette-Cygan, faculty adviser for Tide Pride and an English teacher at the high school. “For every Concord High School student that is out and proud, we have many kids who might be in the closet or struggling with their identities.”

A visit from Karger gives students positive representation, she said.

Karger served as a senior consultant to presidential campaigns for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, but it was in California where he became a champion of gay rights advocacy. He led a grassroots effort to save a landmark gay bar in Laguna Beach, and helped organize a boycott of a San Diego hotel that had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose same-sex marriage. National attention followed his work related to major organizations that had supported Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

The Granite State is featured often in Fred.

Karger launched his campaign at the University of New Hampshire after meeting with students from the gay community. For supporters, Karger’s campaign gave the gay community a face, as he championed a more inclusive Republican Party.

His message was not universally well-received. A leading Republican in Iowa threatened to “abort” Karger’s campaign. He was banned from speaking in presidential debates and at major conservative conventions. He was called, among other things, a “radical homosexual predator.”

He didn’t win the nomination, but for junior Angela Millette, the outcome mattered less than the message. “I was impressed,” she said afterward. “To him it was more important to make a difference and change people’s opinions than winning the election.”

Her classmate, junior Heather Stiles, was surprised by some of the treatment Karger received during his campaign. “It actually surprises me that in 2014 there are still people that have a problem with the LGBT community,” she said. “It shocks me when I hear people are homophobic in this day and age, especially to that extent.

“Get with the times.”

If anyone shared these sentiments while Karger was in high school in suburban Chicago, he said they kept them to themselves. “Never,” he said, when asked whether a presentation like yesterday’s would have been held at his high school.

He wouldn’t say whether he planned to run again. He’ll continue touring with director John Fitzgerald Keitel until July, when they hope to enter Fred into a film festival in Los Angeles.

“I had such a hard time dealing with my sexuality. I want to make it easier for others so they don’t have to go through the hell that I and others went through, particularly in my generation,” he said. “This lets people know there are no boundaries anymore, even though I used to think there was.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)