In November, Franklin County made history in electing not one but two out judges to county benches for the first time ever. In addition to Jeff Mackey who won his bid for Probate Judge, George Leach, also a gay man, secured a seat in the Domestic Relations/Juvenile division of the Court of Common Pleas where he’d practiced as an attorney for 20 years.
A registered Republican during his unsuccessful 2017 bid for municipal court, Leach switched political affiliations for this campaign. Though judgeships are nonpartisan, judicial candidates generally must win the endorsement of a political party in order to appear on the ballot. After the Trump era, deciding to switch parties was not difficult for Leach.
“I felt I could not stay in with a group that would rather me just be tolerated than accepted,” explains Leach.
The Buckeye Flame caught up with George Leach to discuss his historic election win, his journey from R to D, and what could be driving more members of the LGBTQ+ community in the opposite direction.
Congratulations on your historic win! How does it feel to be achieve this milestone?
I’ve never been the ‘gay lawyer’ or the ‘gay guy running for judge’. It’s always just been George the candidate, with his husband and kids. You are who you are. [My sexual orientation] wasn’t a part of my platform, but it means a great deal to be here, and to help provide representation for the LGBTQ+ community on the bench in Franklin County.
Tell us what drew you to run for judge, and what your top priorities will be on the bench.
I’ve practiced law in front of this bench [Family Domestic Relations Court, Juvenile Delinquencies] for almost twenty years now. Though I have experience in other courts as well, family court has been my great passion, because you’re dealing with children and families, some of whom are LGBTQ+ and don’t receive the sensitivity or understanding of the court. There are a lot of great things about the courts in Franklin County, but diversity has not been one of them. The best part about this election is [the LGBTQ+ community]will now have more representation not just on the bench, but in the development of the laws and the courts orders that come out of the court as they relate to not just LGBTQ+ families, but all families.
You switched parties from Republican to Democrat for this election. What made you change your affiliation?
Judges are nonpartisan – if I go back to my college days, I was probably more fiscal conservative, social liberal – but the process is, if you want to run for judge, you have to be endorsed by one of the parties. You go before a screening committee—you can be invited, or you can ask to be presented to it—and there you are grilled on your qualifications, experience, and what court would best suit you if you were to be chosen to run; if selected, the party chooses the spot you will run for. That process is the same for both parties.
Having been endorsed by the Republican party in 2017, I had to switch parties. [Seeking the Democratic endorsement this year], I was asked, “You were a Republican two years ago, what changed?” I explained my [Democratic] roots in Youngstown – how my father was a steelworker and my mother worked in a bar. It’s actually an honor that both parties found me qualified enough based on my life and professional experiences and the cases that I’d handled to recommend me. The Columbus Bar Association also endorsed me in both races.
Exit polls indicated that LGBTQ+ support for Donald Trump doubled from 2016 levels. As someone who went from R to D, do you have any insight on what could be drawing members of the LGBTQ+ community in the opposite direction?
Clearly, I’m surprised that LGBTQ+ support for Trump has grown, because he certainly doesn’t see us in the future MAGA world that he has, and neither do his appointments. My suspicion is that Donald Trump appeals to insecurities in people, perhaps financial. A lot of people I know who voted for Trump say they themselves felt like they’re okay, they aren’t suffering, and whoever is in office is responsible for that benefit. I don’t know how anybody in the community can support him. It’s another reason I could not stay with a group [the Republican party]that would rather me just be tolerated than accepted. [Trump] got worse after I first ran [in 2017], shortly after he’d won. He was big talk then, but as policies began to develop, you realize you can’t accept his faults when they are so important to your being.
- Because representation truly does matter, the Victory Institute is always looking to identify out LGBTQ+ leaders to run for public office. Check out their next available training.