“Choosing whether to come out and when to do so is a very personal decision. So many factors come into play. For those past school age, how your employer might take it can weigh heavily on you. In my case, it was the voters in my legislative district.
At 20 years old, I decided to run for election for the Maine House of Representatives. I was still in college and openly gay. Well, open to my friends and my immediate family. It was never something I really had to think about. I never had an actual ‘coming out’. Most people who meet me just assume that I’m gay.
When it came to the campaign, I knew this would be a bit different. I knew I may be forced to clarify this aspect of my identity, and that there would be people who vote against me just because of this personal detail. I also knew that I couldn’t hide it.
And why would I want to? I didn’t need to parade through the streets with a bullhorn, but being honest is important in any profession, particularly in politics. Moreover, for my sanity I wanted to get on top of the story rather than have it become one later. I wanted to make it a non-issue, so that it wouldn’t become an issue.
So I ran openly and honestly. If someone asked, I would answer. But what I discovered is that most people couldn’t care less. People were generally more concerned about the issues. Substance was more important to people. Generally speaking, voters treated me no differently than any other candidate who came to their door.
Running as an openly gay candidate wasn’t without its challenges. Throughout the campaign a handful of people stole my campaign signs and graffitied them with derogatory language. This occurred right up to election day. At one point I had to involve the police because the theft and vandalism had become so rampant.
Here I had to make a choice: do I bring this to light to shame the homophobes who did this or do I stay silent? While many of those closest to me suggested that I go to the media with what was happening, I decided not to. Why give these people the power by giving them exactly what they wanted—attention and a reaction from me? I put on a good front that it didn’t bother me. But when you are constantly having to take down signs smeared with hate speech, it does take an emotional toll. But I chose to take the high road. I persevered.
I won my election with 60% of the vote becoming the youngest openly gay legislator in the entire country. That proved that our community was better than the hate that some were spreading. I was able to do it without giving them any attention. During my election Maine also became one of the first states to pass marriage equality at the ballot box.
Homophobia still creeps up to the surface every now and again, but society is moving against this discriminatory line of thinking. The more states and countries that support marriage equality, and the more individuals who stand up and present their true selves, the easier it will be for others to follow in their footsteps—in the board room and classroom, and on the field and the campaign trail.”