Gay Members of Congress Share Coming-Out Stories

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com November 09 2011 7:40 PM ET

The gay and lesbian members of Congress recorded an It Gets Better video that emphasizes the value of being honest about who you are.

Democratic representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jared Polis of Colorado, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island talked about what they feared they would lose by coming out and how much better it got after they did.

"I thought I faced a choice, a choice between pursuing the career of my dreams or being honest and open about who I am," said Baldwin. "And then I discovered I didn't have to make that choice; I could do both."

Baldwin came out as a lesbian during an interview with a reporter, and she remembers it as "the most frightening thing I had ever done. But it also ended up being the most freeing."

Baldwin is now running for U.S. Senate, potentially becoming the first openly gay senator in U.S. history.

Frank was the first member of Congress to come out voluntarily, but he talks about starting work in 1971 at age 31, a year before being elected to the Massachusetts state House, worried that someone would learn his secret.

"I spent nights and weekends alone and terrified that someone would find out that I was gay," said Frank, who taped a video on his own in September. "I didn't have the courage to be honest about my sexuality until I was 47 years old, I'd been a member of Congress for six years, and then I volunteered to come out."

A lot has changed since then, and research shows that gay people are coming out much earlier in life than had been the case for their predecessors, which contributes to the need for projects like It Gets Better.

"I have enormous admiration for people who do that now when they're in their teens and are not in some ways insulated from the prejudice," Frank said. "So for those who do that, I thank you, because you've helped make this world better or all of us."

Now members such as Baldwin, Cicilline, and Polis have all been elected to Congress as openly gay candidates.

"It can tough in high school or college — there might be a lot of drama in your life," Polis said, but he is also an example of how things can have a happy ending. Polis and his partner proudly became fathers this year, for example, making Polis the legislative body's first gay parent.

The politicians' message was boiled down to its simplest statement by Cicilline.

"If we can be members of Congress, you can be anything," he said. "We're making it better."

All of them helped repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, they've publicly lobbied for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and their personal and public lives are regularly on display as examples to not only young people but also to the mainstream.