Jared Milrad and Nathan Johnson didn’t know exactly what they were getting into three weeks ago when they agreed to help make a video on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
The Chicago couple was asked by a friend who works for Organizing for America if they wanted to participate in a video of Americans going through big life changes that were somehow related to Clinton, whom they support for president.
“When we were first contacted, they basically told us a little bit about what they would be doing and said they were interviewing people going through big changes in life and also said that it was something affiliated with Hillary, but didn’t exactly say what it would be,” Johnson told the Washington Blade on Sunday during a telephone interview. “So they just mainly wanted to hear our story about that and our life and decision to get married and how we’re dealing with that and how excited we are about that.”
The footage for their segment of the video was filmed just outside their apartment in Chicago, where Milrad, 31, works as an attorney and social entrepreneur who founded the non-profit Civic Legal Corps, and Johnson, 30, works as a project manager for a health care consulting company that conducts clinical trials for medications.
On Sunday, when they discovered the video in which they were participating was actually the campaign announcement for the candidate they support, the couple was pleasantly surprised.
“We were really excited to see that our interview was featured in the campaign announcement,” Milrad told the Blade. “It was particularly moving to see Secretary Clinton feature a gay couple engaged to be legally married, the first of any major presidential candidate. To us, this decision demonstrates Secretary Clinton’s commitment to LGBT equality and the type of inclusive leader she would be as president.”
The video features the couple among other Clinton supporters in a segment in which they are shown holding hands as they walk down a street. Overheard is Milrad’s voice, who says, “I’m getting married this summer to someone I really care about.”
Johnson and Milrad plan to marry on July 19 in Chicago in a park adjacent to Lake Michigan, then hold a reception at Center of Halstead, an LGBT community center in the city.
For Milrad, his decision to back Clinton is based on her support for same-sex marriage and the progressive views she holds.
“We really believe that we need a progressive leader in the White House for years to come,” Milrad said. “I was also a strong supporter of President Obama, particularly on the issues that affect our generation as well as the LGBT community, whether it be marriage equality, or climate change, or raising the minimum wage. I think all those issues are something that we agree with Secretary Clinton pretty strongly on. So, we’re among many other reasons happy to support the campaign.”
Johnson said Clinton’s role in advancing women’s rights contributed to his decision to support for her candidacy.
“I’ve been raised by a pretty awesome mom and my grandmother’s also pretty awesome, too,” Johnson said. “I think women’s rights is a very important thing for me. I mean [Clinton has] over the past 20 or 30 years been obviously, internationally and domestically, a huge supporter of women’s rights and issues. She’s been very strong on that, so for me, that’s been a very important issue. And obviously her support now for same-sex marriage for LGBT couples is an important reason for why I support her over any Republican candidate.”
The couple isn’t the only same-sex couple in the campaign video. Toward the end, what looks to be a lesbian couple exchanges a brief kiss before the video concludes. But the identity of the other couple is unknown to Milrad and Johnson, who noted the campaign filmed the video in multiple states and locations.
Milrad and Johnson plan to contribute financially to the Clinton campaign and volunteer for her — perhaps traveling to the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — but have no plans to work for Clinton in an official capacity as they plan their wedding and continue to work full-time.
Neither Milrad nor Johnson is new to presidential politics. In the 2008 election, when then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Clinton were engaged in a heated Democratic primary, Johnson supported Clinton, but Milrad was an Obama supporter and worked for him in New Hampshire.
The ongoing war in Iraq at the time was the reason why Milrad backed Obama. Clinton had cast a vote as a U.S. senator in favor of the resolution for military engagement in the country, but Obama was opposed to it.
“It was the war in Iraq; I supported his position on that,” Milrad said. “He opposed the war in Iraq. I felt like he was quite strong on LGBT issues, although, honestly, Sen. Clinton was as well. I really liked his sort of youthful vision for the future at the time, and I felt like just given his involvement in the issues [important] to me, President Obama was the right person for the job at that moment.”
But as the 2016 election approaches, Milrad said he’s confident that Clinton is the right candidate “to continue down the path that President Obama has set us on.”
“I feel like Hillary Clinton is actually the right candidate for now, for 2016,” Milrad said. “She is someone who has been on the world stage. She most recently worked on the world stage as a diplomat and is someone who believes strongly, as Nathan said, in women’s rights, in equal opportunity for all of us, in raising the minimum wage and leveling the playing field for the middle class, of which Nate and I are both a part.”
Johnson said he has yet to meet Clinton, but Milrad had the opportunity to briefly speak with her in 2008 when he was working on the Obama campaign.
“I briefly met Secretary Clinton in 2008, when she spoke after I did at a rally for then-Sen. Obama in New Hampshire,” Milrad said. “I was there to rally voters to support President Obama in the general election, and so was Secretary Clinton. She was very warm, friendly and engaging.”
It was immediately after the election in 2008 that the couple met. After working with the Obama campaign, Milrad went to live in Boston, where his good friend was already living with Johnson as a roommate.
“My roommate had him over for just a night out and so I got to meet Jared that night and just instantly sort of fell for him,” Johnson said. “He’s a very passionate guy with kind of a different background than I had being from a small town in Michigan especially. This guy was from New York, was a Jewish gay guy and had a lot of passion in life, so I think we hit it off pretty quickly. So that was 2008 just after the campaign. We pretty much started dating right after that.”
In addition to the Clinton campaign, the couple remains interested in the litigation before the Supreme Court seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples across the country.
As a native of Potterville, Michigan, a small town about a 20-minute drive from the state capitol of Lansing, Johnson has a vested interest in overturning state bans on same-sex marriage, saying his home state’s prohibition on gay nuptials is “incredibly disappointing.”
“We’re excited Illinois allows gay marriage, but hopefully with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that will change nationally and it’ll be recognized everywhere,” Johnson said.
Johnson said they have many friends in Michigan, including a same-sex couple that decided to marry at the same time he and Milrad became engaged, but won’t actually be hearing wedding bells anytime soon.
“They’re just going to wait until it’s allowed in Michigan to get married, and it’s just too bad they have to wait too long for that,” Johnson said.
Although Clinton has come out in favor of marriage equality, she hasn’t yet said anything about pending litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking the right to marry nationwide. Her last comments on marriage came during an interview on National Public Radio in which she talked about marriage being “a matter left to the states,” stopping short of supporting a national ruling on the issue.
Milrad said he’d like to see Clinton articulate support for the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, although he believes she already holds that position.
“I think it is important,” Milrad said. “I think she does quite frankly support the right of every same-sex couple to marry legally in this country. I think she likely will articulate it and I hope she does, but I also think we do have a judicial system in this country. We should let it play out and I’m hopeful the Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex couples and their right to marry legally.”
As evidence of Clinton being “a strong supporter of our equality,” Milrad pointed to her statement via Twitter against the religious freedom measure in Indiana seen to enable discrimination against LGBT people.
“She was, as far as I know, the only major presidential candidate on either side to come out in support of the non-discrimination bill in Indiana and opposed the so-called religious freedom act there,” Milrad said. “I was really happy with that and I think that’s one example of the difference between her and the Republican candidates.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a potential Democratic candidate for president, called the Indiana law “reprehensible” and “shameful” when speaking to reporters in New Hampshire.
As the campaign season gets started, Milrad said LGBT people should pay attention to the candidate that would advocate on behalf of them and other minority groups.
“I think, from our perspective, they should be focusing on which candidates are on their side, which candidates stand up vocally, unabashedly for their equal rights, so which candidate is supporting same-sex marriage, which candidate is supporting ENDA and workplace rights, which candidate is standing up for the transgender community and against all the violence and discrimination that they continue to face around the country, which candidate is promoting our full rights and equality under the law,” Milrad said. “I think that’s incredibly important. That’s a point of distinction that I think we’ll see as the campaign season plays out between Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates.”