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Mahlon Mitchell, Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin president (copy)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell on Thursday clarified the remarks he made about sexual orientation at a forum Wednesday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell on Thursday clarified remarks he made at a recent forum that left some wondering if he believes people choose their sexual orientation.

Mitchell told the Wisconsin State Journal on Thursday sexual orientation is not a choice and that his remarks were instead referring to youth who chose to tell their families about their sexual orientation and were shunned because of it.

The comments were made Wednesday at a forum in Racine. When the candidates were asked about ways they would support the state's LGBTQ community, Mitchell told the audience about his past work at Madison's Briarpatch Youth Services connecting homeless teens with needed services. 

In doing so, Mitchell said part of his work included working with youth who had been kicked out of their homes "because of the choices they made with their sexual orientation."

"I recounted my time working around Madison where I met young men and women who were forced out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. I know and fully understand that sexual orientation and being who you are is not a choice," Mitchell said Thursday. "Sadly for some, it's a difficult, and oftentimes impossible, choice to come out to friends and family. For many of the youth I met, that choice had dire consequences. It is our moral obligation to protect all Wisconsinites from discrimination."

Brian Juchems, co-director of LGBTQ advocacy group GSAFE, said Mitchell "made a fairly common stumble in language around sexual orientation and choice, especially folks who don't identify as lesbian, bi, gay, pan, etc." and that his clarification "makes a lot of sense and seems thoughtful and well considered."

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"We often encourage the adults we work with to go over the pros and cons with youth who are in a position to choose when they come out to their families, and let them know it's okay not to come out if they feel like they would be in danger or at risk of being thrown out," he said. "Political candidates get asked to talk about a lot of things and sometimes don't exactly nail it when on the hot seat, especially if it's about something you don't immediately identify with. My guess is that if his opponents were asked about race it wouldn't take long for them to start sounding or say something that sounded racist."

Juchems also noted his organization is "not interested in contributing to or furthering the decades long efforts to create a divide between the Black/African-American community and the LGBTQ+ community, which were never two separate communities anyway."

"We'd rather lift up fellow members of marginalized communities and help them through mistakes rather than tear them down," he said.

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