The Cory Booker who was photographed cheering as Democrats announced passage of a party platform that for the first time included marriage equality, the one who is mayor of Newark and reportedly eyeing a bid for the U.S. Senate, was once a self-confessed homophobe.
While in college at Stanford University, Booker wrote about what it took for him to stop merely "tolerating" gays and lesbians. The Stanford Daily posted a copy Wednesday of a column Booker wrote in April of 1992, titled "Pointing the Finger at Gays."
"The thought of two men kissing each other was about as appealing as a frontal lobotomy," Booker confessed. "Allow me to be more direct, escaping the euphemisms of my past — I hated gays. The disgust and latent hostility I felt toward gays were subcategories of hatred, plain and simple."
Booker describes himself as skillfully appearing politically correct. "I was well trained in my tolerance," he wrote. "I stopped telling my gay jokes. Fags, flamers and dykes became homosexuals and people of differing sexual orientation and, of course, I had my gay friend."
But beneath his exterior, he admits "hate" had "clandestinely pervaded my every interaction with homosexuals. I sheepishly shook hands with gays or completely shied away from physical contact. I still remember how my brow would often unconsciously furrow when I was with gays as thoughts would flash in my mind, 'What sinners I am amongst' or 'How unnatural these people are.'"
He said in the column that his mind began to change in freshman year when he met a gay counselor, Daniel Bao, who "quickly disarmed me with his personal testimony." Bao told him about "people who religiously prayed to God to help them become straight. He told me of the years of denial and the pain of always feeling different. And he told me of the violence — violence from strangers and family, horrible images of beatings, destruction of property and the daily verbal condemnations."
Booker described the stories as "chilling" because of how similar they were to ones shared with him by his grandparents, who struggled in a racist society.
"Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that the root of my hatred did not lie with gays but with myself," he wrote. "It was my problem. A problem I dealt with by ceasing to tolerate gays and instead seeking to embrace them."
Booker wrote that he now felt a kinship to LGBT people and that "their demands for justice are no less imperative than those of any other community."
A little more than two decades later, the New Jersey mayor is an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality. He delivered a personal appeal in the very first video from the Human Rights Campaign's video series, Americans for Marriage Equality, in October 2011. And when the Democrats adopted that historic platform in September, Booker not only cheered but also took the podium to praise it.
"This platform is a clear choice," Booker said. "We choose forward. We choose inclusion." He said backing marriage equality was among America's "most fundamental national aspiration — that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, creed, how you choose to pray or who you choose to love, that if you are an American — first generation or fifth — one who is willing to work hard, play by the rules and apply your God-given talents — that you should be able to find a job that pays the bills."