By BRIAN GRAVES
If you are around Blake Kitterman very long, the stories will eventually come up as to the many political luminaries he has met along the way.The 2015 graduate of Walker Valley High School has been …
If you are around Blake Kitterman very long, the stories will eventually come up as to the many political luminaries he has met along the way.
The 2015 graduate of Walker Valley High School has been making a name for himself in Democratic politics, most recently becoming the youngest member of the Tennessee delegation to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where he not only served as a delegate for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he also provided reports from the scene for readers of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Along with Clinton, Kitterman has met former Vice President Joe Biden, former President Jimmy Carter and a large number of the political A-list, winning friends along the way with his openness and honesty on a number of issues.
He is also a member of two minorities in Bradley County — Democrats and gays.
Kitterman, who was senior class president at Walker Valley, said he did not really get involved in politics until his junior year in high school.
“There were some students who wanted to organize a gay-straight alliance — at a time when I was trying to figure out who I was — and the school was pushing back,” Kitterman said. “They wouldn’t allow them to meet, and prevented them from posting fliers.”
“Around that time, I was trying to organize an event for Key Club day and was trying to get some prominent politician to speak about civic duty,” he said. “I thought it would be fair to ask Linda Sherrill, who was running for U.S. Congress, and I went to one of her events.”
Kitterman said he thought of politicians as “very business-like and cold.”
“But, when I met Linda, she was was like the family relative everyone wanted to hold,” he said. “She got me involved in her campaign and, through that campaign I learned what it meant to be a part of the community, and I learned my place, and, in a place like Cleveland and in the state, I learned a lot about myself and my identity.”
Kitterman said he was spurred on to help people in the LGBTQ+ community and “began to feel more comfortable about myself.”
That experience, Kitterman says, that helped him decide to form the Bradley County Young Democrats, and he hoped it would help be a forum for minorities who perhaps are not as welcomed as the general population.
“I saw the general concern of being transgender or gay in our public school system, and how the system would bully either by administration or other students,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s like to be black where the population is predominantly white. So, the idea came from creating a place where people felt truly comfortable. It really was not necessarily meant to be political in its motive. It was meant to be a place of refuge.”
He said because of its nature, it did have its political mission and “gave kids an outlet where they could feel comfortable as liberals to express themselves.”
“I think I should add I am friends with a lot of Republicans,” Kitterman added. “I don’t think there should be any animosity between the two parties because we are ideologically polarized. When you have one party that dominates, you have the other party or other voices to challenge that. That is how you achieve a more perfect society.”
Kitterman said being an openly gay man has been “very difficult” in Cleveland and Bradley County.
“I have hate messages in my inbox. I’ve been told I will not be able to get a job; that being openly gay might affect my family,” he said.
“When I was running for delegate, I was told by another county not to ... speak there,” Kitterman said. “There are a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle discriminations I face.”
He is of the opinion that in a community that has Christianity as its cornerstone, there is a lot of hypocrisy.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to be religious, but I do think it’s wrong to be a bigot,” Kitterman said. “The pastors speak about loving one another. If there is one message churches should be preaching, it’s how to love each other and how to be tolerant of each other, even when you don’t agree, rather than pounding the message of what you believe is an abomination.”
Kitterman said he remembers the exact place and moment he realized he was gay.
“I was at my grandparents’ house and had been listening to hours and hours of tapes with pastors debating the ethicality of being homosexual,” he said. “It has been challenging for me, and I know a lot of people have it worse in this county.”
“I have never understood why people have such malice and contempt for a community that just wants to love,” Kitterman said. “I think at the end of the day, the argument I have to tell myself is that if God is love, and love is practically everything that binds the universe together, and God is someone we cannot even begin to comprehend, then who am I or anyone else to say who I love is not correct?”
Kitterman is now the Young Democrats of America’s LGBTQ+ Southern regional director.
“I help to facilitate communications between the community and candidates,” he said. “I want to be a catalyst to use the party’s resources where gay youth are significantly disadvantaged when it comes to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination, homelessness and sex education.”
Overall, Kitterman says there is a surge of “people who care about things.”
“That’s great — whether you are a Republican or a Democrat,” he said. “But right now, you see a lot of people who are scared.”
“I think in 2018 we are going to see a lot of new, fresh faces,” Kitterman said. “It’s needed on both sides of the [political] aisle.”
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