GORHAM — In 1973, there was enormous turmoil at the University of Maine in Orono. The Wilde-Stein Club had been formed to promote the rights of gay and lesbian students, and the governor and state Legislature threatened to shut it down. However, the University of Maine System board of trustees stepped in and voted unanimously to protect the club.

Dr. Lawrence Cutler, Eliot Cutler’s father, served as chairman of the board of trustees at the time.

Eliot is now an independent candidate for governor, and I’ve talked with him about what it was like to watch his father stand up to the governor and state Legislature, and what it was like for the entire Cutler family to receive anonymous, frightening telephone calls and death threats at their home in Bangor.

Eliot’s pride in his father’s courage continues to impress me today, as does his long and deeply held commitment to equality for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a Jewish-American growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Eliot experienced anti-Semitism. He learned from his parents the importance of treating everyone with respect and dignity. He lives these lessons every day.

Eliot and his wife, Melanie, were invaluable supporters of Protect Maine Equality in 2009, and Mainers United for Marriage in 2012. In fact, they hosted the largest reception in the state for the marriage campaign at their home last year.

Eliot and Melanie have been generous, steadfast supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement beyond marriage, too, backing efforts to ensure safe schools, culturally competent health care and welcoming and inclusive communities across Maine.

I have spent my entire professional career working to advance LGBT equality. Allies like Eliot and Melanie Cutler have helped to change the course of history by sharing their family stories and using their influence to change the minds of decision-makers on issues of LGBT equality when it counted.

As a gay Mainer, I commend U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for coming out. However, I am convinced that Eliot Cutler, not Rep. Michaud, is the best person to lead our state into the future.

I was excited to see that my former colleague and civil rights pioneer, Betsy Smith, recently joined a growing number of LGBT and allied Mainers in announcing her support for Eliot’s candidacy. Betsy has been leading the fight for LGBT equality in Maine for decades, and she knows well Eliot’s commitment to equality and other issues that many of us consider important.

On issues of LGBT equality, a woman’s right to choose, gun safety and clean air and water, Eliot Cutler’s moral compass has never needed recalibration.

Eliot is also the only candidate with proven leadership experience in public administration, law and international business. Eliot’s depth and range of understanding on issues is unmatched. As a political independent who is not beholden to party leaders, special interests or lobbyists, Eliot will be a bold and courageous leader for our state. He’s already published a detailed plan for building a brighter future in Maine.

I have smart, young friends in Maine who are unemployed or underemployed. Gov. LePage’s gaffes and blunders have done little to drive job creation in Maine. Rep. Michaud may be a nice man, but he has no executive experience or history of creating jobs in the private sector.

Maine needs a governor who understands what it’s like to run complex organizations, and who has the relationships and know-how to get our economy moving again.

We deserve a governor who shares our Maine values of independence and resilience, and who carries the hopes and dreams of our children and grandchildren with him every day, as he works to breathe new life into Maine’s economy and create greater opportunity for Maine families and future generations. It’s hard to think of another candidate for governor in recent history with Eliot Cutler’s credentials and heart for Maine people.

The choice in this election comes down to this: Stick with what clearly isn’t working with Gov. LePage; resign ourselves to more of the same from Rep. Michaud, who’s spent a decade on Capitol Hill; or embrace a bold, new approach and move forward with Eliot Cutler.

I believe we must take a new approach, and that Eliot Cutler is our best hope for a healthier, smarter, stronger, younger and more prosperous Maine, where there is opportunity for all and the possibilities are limitless. I am proud to support Eliot Cutler’s candidacy, and to join his campaign team.

— Special to the Press Herald

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