The search for an "acceptable lifestyle"
Cyndi Lamm left her home in California seeking a place where schools would not teach her children that "homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle". As she would recall in an interview six years later, when she left Orange County with her children in 1988, California was experimenting with LGBT tolerance in public schools. Los Angeles Public School System passed a nondiscrimination policy that included sexual orientation that year. Cyndi Lamm couldn't stand it, and she left.
Seeking somewhere that gay people were still repressed, she found Lincoln, Nebraska. This city may have felt safe, for a while.
But by April 1993, she was distributing a flier titled "Homosexual Education Headed For Lincoln Public Schools" to local businesses and churches. Her fliers rallied readers to a Board of Education meeting to oppose a multicultural policy the board was considering. Though the proposed policy did not mention sexuality, Lamm told a reporter "our concern is that advocates of homosexuality will use this policy to gain access to the children of Lincoln" through, as she put it, the "back door".
Lamm told a reporter that the anti-gay, anti-multicultural fliers were published by "a local group loosely related to the national Traditional Values Coalition." This Coalition was founded in the early 1980s by Rev. Louis P. Sheldon.
Sheldon was on the brink of becoming very influential in American politics. His Traditional Values Coalition, along with allied organizations like Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, would play a decisive role in the 1994 elections, driving turnout on the religious right to deliver a very conservative Congress.
At the time of this victory, he said of homosexuality: "Anytime you say that it's viable and that it's a valid alternative, that's promotion. You don't want to tolerate sin. You don't want to tolerate perversion." Traditional Values Coalition, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, operated from Orange County, California — Cyndi Lamm's old home town.
Lamm was distributing fliers the same week as one of the largest political protests in American history: the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. The march was attended by an estimated one million Americans.
The march was partly a response to the quickly-escalating AIDS epidemic, which was then killing thousands every year in the LGBT community, and the government's refusal to conduct adequate research into the disease. As the march was headline news throughout the nation, Lamm must have been aware of it, but she did not bring up the subject in the contact with the press that her homophobic fliers had earned her. Lamm presented herself as just a concerned mom.
A new anti-LGBT leader
May 1993 saw a conference called "Responding Democratically to Religious Agendas: Right-Wing Pressure Groups and School Reform" held in Colorado Springs, with the goal of helping schools deal with mounting pressure from groups like Traditional Values Coalition. Four officials from Lincoln Public Schools attended, including superintendent Phil Schoo. Lamm confronted administrators at a School Board meeting, accusing Schoo of attacking Christianity by attending the conference. Schoo's response was angry, rejoining that "I'm tired of my Christianity being questioned" by constant attacks from Christian groups. "As a Christian I resent the lies that have been stated here," he said of Lamm's accusations.
By September 1993, Lamm had established her own chapter of the Traditional Values Coalition, and had solicited a visit from founder Louis P. Sheldon. "Sheldon will meet with pastors, organizations, concerned citizens, and elected officials" according to Lamm's press release. Lamm would serve as the director of the Traditional Values Coalition of Nebraska for the next decade.
In October 1993, after Sheldon's first visit to Lincoln, Lamm took to the editorial page to dispel the idea that she was running a political organization. "Some media reported in error that Traditional Values Coalition was pressing to have its members elected to school boards, city councils, and other government positions to influence policy. The truth is that while any citizen is entitled to run for office, regardless of group affiliation, Traditional Values Coalition does not recruit or sponsor candidates!"
Launching a political career
In spite of this disavowal, Lamm's own career as a candidate was beginning. She would appear on the ballot in May of 1994, running as a delegate to the Republican county convention. Her organization also promoted unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial candidate Alan Jacobsen. A centerpiece of Jacobsen's bid for governor was opposition to proposed legislation to protect LGBT Nebraskans from workplace discrimination. "We are going to stand for pro-family legislation and legislators, and oppose any bill to undermine families" Lamm said.
Traditional Values Coalition of Nebraska sponsored a protest of the LGBT rights legislation. Sheldon was invited back to Nebraska to speak; Jacobson stumped as well. About 500 stood outside the Capitol on a chilly January day to hear the speakers.
One speaker dismissed the AIDS crisis: "our national problems are not due to weak condoms, but to morally weak national leaders". Cyndi Lamm told reporters that her group had collected 3,000 signatures of people opposed to the bill, and had distributed 90,000 copies of a "Citizens Guide" exposing "the homosexual special rights agenda."
After the failed bid for governor, the Traditional Values Coalition of Nebraska would never again be as prominent. Cynthia Lamm retrenched, working up in rank in the Republican party and going to law school. By 2006, she had become an associate at the Lincoln law firm Baylor Evnen. (Firm partner Bob Evnen was elected Secretary of State in 2018.) She also found a new organization for her religious agenda: the Nebraska Family Council. Representing the Council, she appeared again outside the Capitol, this time protesting same-sex marriage. More than 250 joined her in June of 2006.
To the City Council
Over time, Lamm learned to moderate her comments, referring to her religious agenda only obliquely. A good example is her 2012 testimony before the Lincoln City Council, where she spoke in opposition to a proposed fairness ordinance for Lincoln LGBT employees:
Just as in 1994, she is opposing protection for LGBT Nebraskans from workplace discrimination. She finds a way not to call it the "homosexual special rights agenda" anymore.
Though she became a Lincoln City Council member herself in 2015, she still finds time for activism with the religious far right. She accepted an invitation from anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America to attend their America First rally in Lincoln in September of 2017. The Lincoln rally was canceled, however, following the murder of a counterprotestor at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August.
To the Mayor's Office
Now Cyndi Lamm is the Republican candidate for Mayor of Lincoln in 2019. As someone who has spent a quarter of a century seeking to push her religious beliefs on the people of this city, being a step away from the mayor's office must be very exciting. Many of her colleagues among the 1990s hateful far right have faded from public view. But Lamm did not stop working.
Her language is now more moderate. But, it's harder to find evidence that her homophobic religious convictions have softened. Perhaps, if she wins office, we'll find out.