A mother with an inquisitive 9-year-old boy has forced me and the city of Spokane, Wash., to look deep into society’s treatment of homosexuality. I am an openly gay attorney in this extremely conservative town. Our mayor, James West, is a Republican homophobe who admitted to secretly cruising gay chat rooms while publicly opposing equality for gay citizens. He now stands accused of luring young gay men into sexual activities in exchange for jobs at City Hall.
My client is Shannon Sullivan, a divorced mother who said her young son couldn’t understand why West wasn’t being fired for what he did. So she decided to launch a recall effort and was challenged in court. As a gay man I was hesitant about taking her case, which would eventually be won in the state supreme court. West tried to paint the recall effort as antigay, but it’s not.
It’s because of his hypocrisy that good people—gay and straight—are calling for him to step down. As a state legislator West introduced or endorsed numerous hateful bills aimed at gay people. He attempted to deny benefits, to deny employment, and to deny equal rights to those he should have been protecting.
Still, I have received a lot of criticism from gay people for taking this case. I have also been asked to hide my sexual identity while pursing it. But I would like to think that it is not just coincidence that an openly gay attorney, along with a divorced mother, is leading the effort to topple this self-loathing gay leader.
West has always run on a platform of being a social conservative, and the closet door that protected him was kept shut by his Republican colleagues, many of whom probably knew he was having gay sex on the sly.
As I thought about what drives a person to behave this way, I began to see West in a different light. I realize now that society has a tremendous amount of responsibility to bear. To this day gay people are forced to hide their identity in order to be accepted. When West decided to be a politician 30 years ago the only route was to hide and repress his sexuality. For many that’s still true today, and society should be ashamed.
It is time for everyone to understand and realize that when you make someone lie to pursue a career (the U.S. military, please take note) you begin to kill that person. And a person who is not true to himself cannot represent others. In West’s case 30 years of repression drove him to acts that boggle the mind. He had it all: He is the mayor of a major city; he is the ultimate politician. However, he made juvenile decisions that stem from never being able to be himself.
Don’t get me wrong—I am very angry at West for the damage he has done to the gay community. But I do feel bad that he never had the chance to have what we all deserve: the right to be happy in our personal and private lives.
GOP take note: The next time you fail to accept a young gay person attempting to enter your “tent,” you may be fostering the next Jim West.