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Coming Out to Hillary Clinton

Mira Patel

Mira Patel describes the experience of introducing her girlfriend to one of the most powerful women on the planet.

Eight years ago, I decided to come out to Hillary Clinton at our office holiday party. In the living room of a stately D.C. home crowded with Hill staffers who had braved the evening's snowstorm, I marched past the Christmas tree toward her.

Sen. Clinton knew me as a junior policy staffer and former intern who had carried her bags every morning for a summer. We saw each other frequently, but I rarely dared to say more than a friendly greeting. Although Hillary was always kind and open as a boss, I had not yet steeled myself to be open with her despite my personal devotion to Harvey Milk's philosophy to always come out.

In middle of that holiday party, I gathered my courage to show Sen. Clinton who I was and introduced her to my girlfriend. Without missing a beat, a broad smile formed on her face. She put her hands on our shoulders in an excited embrace, and exclaimed, "Wonderful! And how did you girls meet?"

On National Coming Out Day, I often think of that moment when we both came out to each other: me as a gay woman and Hillary as my ally.

I had good reasons to stay closeted. As a woman of color who grew up when same-sex relations were still criminalized in the United States and Matthew Shepard's tragic death was a recent memory, I knew that the consequences of being out could far outweigh the benefits.

At the forefront of my mind was my own experience. A few years earlier, when I came out to my parents as a teenager, my relationship with them ended in the course of a weekend.

This loss carried forward over the passing Mother's Days, graduations, and birthdays. I did not see my little sister for years. My parents believed being openly gay meant a diminished, lonely life doomed to failure and unhappiness. Even today, they fail to understand what Hillary knows: that our differences can be a source of great strength, courage, and purpose, not a liability or something to hide.

You can ask virtually any gay, trans, or bisexual person, When did you first come out? Who was the first person you told? And every single one can remember the exact place, the time, how they felt, and every word of the conversation. Coming out is one of the most personally exhilarating and terrifying experiences many of us have ever had, and we do it again and again, every single day of our lives.

Ever since the day I came out to her, I have watched Hillary send a clear and consistent message -- as U.S. senator, as secretary of State, and as a presidential candidate -- that she cares deeply about me, my chosen family, and my community.

In 2009, I had the incredible fortune to work for Secretary Clinton at the State Department, where she made waves at home and abroad to secure rights for LGBT people. As secretary of State, Hillary changed passport regulations so trans Americans could obtain a federal identification that accurately reflects who they are. As a result, tens of thousands of people are able to live with dignity and safety without being outed in potentially dangerous settings.

At her direction, the State Department became the first major federal agency to include gender identity in its equal employment regulations. Hillary is an ally who recognizes the commitment and sacrifice of public servants who dedicate their lives to advancing American security and values, especially those who have been ignored and mistreated by unfair laws.

Perhaps her defining moment as a global champion for LGBT equality was her speech in Geneva before the U.N. Human Rights Council. I witnessed her make a passionate and principled case for her own allyship in front of hundreds of senior diplomats, some from countries that criminalize LGBT status with imprisonment or even death. To the activists around the world who risked their lives in the struggle for equality, she firmly pledged, "You have an ally in the United States of America."

Last week Hillary Clinton became the first-ever presidential candidate to write an op-ed in an LGBT newspaper. In her piece, she echoed that sentiment, "As president, I'll keep fighting for LGBT rights, because -- as I told the world in one of the most important speeches I gave as Secretary -- they are human rights. And I won't quit until all our laws reflect that basic reality."

On this National Coming Out Day, I celebrate with gratitude the power of allies, like Hillary, who come out to stand with us loudly and proudly in the fight for equality. In the words of Harvey Milk, "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

Mira-patelMIRA PATEL was appointed in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013 as a special advisor on Secretary Clinton's policy planning staff at the U.S. Department of State developing policy, programming, and communications on international human rights. Patel is a former Point Foundation scholar.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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