While other politicians were sitting in parade floats and booths at PrideFest St. Louis, House of Representatives candidate Natalie Vowell was putting her support for LGBT rights where her mouth is.
Vowell, challenging incumbent Penny Hubbard for a seat in the 78th district, toured Pride this weekend, giving smooches to any lady who'd let her. She got the idea when a woman asked for her number and tried to kiss her.
"I was like, 'Why not?'" Vowell tells Daily RFT. "Most people were pretty welcoming to the idea. They thought it was kind of awesome that there is a person out here campaigning and really showing support."
Vowell says she kissed more than 50 people, including a gay male couple from her hometown in Arkansas, during Pride. The only people who refused a kiss were "couples who would jokingly say things like, 'Nobody kisses her but me,'" Vowell says.
Four of the women she met on her kiss crusade volunteered to help during Vowell's campaign -- a big win for the candidate, who is running on a $1,000 budget and grassroots support.
"I accept no compromise when it comes to the basic rights of every human being, regardless of cultural identity," Vowell says. "The de facto segregation in St. Louis is barring us from showing the rest of this Republican-dominated state our city's potential for progressive policy. I applaud Mayor Slay's bold and defiant approach to forcing this critical civil-rights issue to the forefront of Missouri politics."
Vowell says marriage freedom is a cornerstone of her platform, especially because gay couples can now marry in Arkansas, where she was born.
"We really need to wake up Missouri if Arkansas is beating us to the punch," she says.
Vowell almost didn't get on the ballot since she's only been registered to vote for a year. Read about her court battle and see more photos of her kissing ladies on page two.
Vowell almost didn't make it to the ballot in the race for Representative of the 78th district, which includes the eastern sliver of downtown as well as Soulard, Benton Park, Gravois Park, Marine Villa, Dutchtown, Carr Square and Old North neighborhoods.
Vowell technically doesn't meet one of the requirements to run for office in Missouri: She didn't register to vote until July 2013. Why didn't she register back in 2010 when she moved to Missouri? Here's her official answer:
Despite her interest in politics and her involvement in policy discussions, Vowell had long been frustrated with a political system dominated by entrenched interests and stacked against ordinary citizens. As way of protesting that broken system, she chose not to register to vote.
Vowell, Freedom Center of Missouri and the ACLU fought Kander's decision in court and won earlier this month. A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Kander does not have the legal standing to determine whether a candidate is qualified to run for office.
"This case ended up being about more than just my candidacy," Vowell says. "It is a perfect example of the electoral system that disenchanted me with the democratic process in the first place, and I hope this ruling gives more people the confidence to stand up to political injustice."
Correction: This article previously misstated when Vowell filed for candidacy. She filed in March 2014.