12 LGBTQ Politicians and Candidates Share Their Coming-Out Stories
Annise Parker, President/CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and former mayor of Houston
An unprecedented number of openly LGBTQ people are running for office this election cycle, running for higher-level offices than ever before and for positions where no openly LGBTQ person has served. More than 600 LGBTQ people ran in 2018 and at least 384 will be on the ballot in November - shattering previous records and creating a Rainbow Wave of out candidates who are determined to be our voice in the halls of power.
As you will learn from the stories below, the experience and struggle of coming out shapes the beliefs and priorities of these leaders, with empathy and values a driving force in their commitment to public service. This National Coming Out Day we celebrate all those who came out and stood proud, paving the way for the historic number of out and proud candidates running in 2018.
Mayor Annise Parker
President & CEO, LGBTQ Victory Fund
LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed 272 openly LGBTQ candidates this cycle. Find the LGBTQ candidates in your area at victoryfund.org/ourcandidates and be sure to vote!
Kate Brown, governor of Oregon
As a young lawyer, I was terrified I'd lose my job if anyone at the firm found out I was dating a woman. I was walking on eggshells the whole time, I felt like I had to stuff my spirit in a box.
Several years later, I joined the Oregon legislature.
By the early nineties I figured out who I was and how I described myself: bisexual.
I had an off-the-record conversation with a reporter who had questions about my sexual orientation. So I told them.
A year or so later, that same reporter called me. They were doing a front-page story on Oregon's "LGBT political caucus" and they were going to out me as bisexual in the article.
Coming out as a politician in the mid-nineties was challenging. At the time I didn't know anyone else in elected office who identified as bisexual. To the straight community, I was gay, but to the gay community, I wasn't gay enough. I felt alienated.
It was challenging for my parents to understand this wasn't a choice, this was me.
After I was outed by The Oregonian, a male Republican colleague in the statehouse said to me, "Read that you were bisexual. Guess that means I still have a chance?" If someone like him could accept me, it was going to be ok.
When I was sworn in as Oregon's 38th Governor, I experienced what it's like to be labeled - in almost every headline worldwide as: "America's first openly bisexual governor."
I later received a letter from a young person who told me they felt like my coming out gave them a reason to live. If I can be a role model for one young person, it's worth it.
Everyone deserves to live with dignity, and I am proud to serve Oregonians and to be the first openly LGBT governor in the country.
Nelson Araujo, member of the Nevada assembly and candidate for Nevada secretary of state
It wasn't until I truly came out that I was able to take a full breath.
I remember being in my late teens and realizing that it was getting increasingly difficult living a lie. I remember the friends I quietly came out to, but I also remember feeling very little emotional relief each time.
That's because no matter how many friends I told privately, the thought of coming out to my family was mortifying.
When I finally gathered enough courage to tell my sister - at age 22 - she embraced me with open arms and joined me for what felt like the most agonizing moment.
I sat in the living room of my mother's house, with my sister by my side, in awkward silence for minutes. Then I looked at my strong, fierce, incredible Latina mother and said: "Mama, soy Gay."
I wish I could tell you that she immediately embraced me in her loving arms, but she too had to go through her process of acceptance, just like I did. Just like we all do.
She was in denial at first. Then it hit her, and she broke down... and with one statement, she helped me take that breath I was desperately gasping for for years.
With tears in her eyes, she told me she loved me, and just wanted to protect me from the world.
Having her and so many loved ones reinforce their love for me has helped shape me into the person I am today. To date, I have served two terms as a Nevada State Assemblymember and I'm currently the Democratic nominee for Nevada Secretary of State --- and am proud to be a Nevadan who happens to be fueled with so many diverse qualities.
So for anyone reading this who is struggling to find a way to come out, please know that it is never easy, but it gets better.
Ricardo Lara, California state senator
"Soy gay. ?Me oyen?" -- "I'm gay. Do you hear me?" I was shouting, and my parents looked stunned. Nothing they experienced as immigrants from Mexico, working multiple jobs to raise me and my siblings, had prepared them for this moment. The truth was I wasn't prepared either.
I was born and raised in California, but growing up Latino and gay I didn't have role models. I didn't learn about our gay and lesbian movement until years later.
Fortunately, I survived coming out, and so did my parents.
It wasn't until I won election as the first LGBT person of color in the California Senate that I embraced the responsibility to be a voice for marginalized members of our movement.
The murder of 49 men and women at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando two years ago shattered my feeling of security.
"As gay people, we are not safe. Not even in our own country," I said on the Senate floor. "A minority within a minority, LGBT Latinos not only continue to fight racism and homophobia within our own culture, but we also struggle for our rightful place in this larger movement of equality."
That was before the election of Trump drove the divisions in our country even deeper. In this moment of intolerance we have to keep telling our stories, embracing our pain and celebrating our progress.
"?Por que somos democratas?" I asked my mother recently. "Why are we Democrats?"
"Es el unico partido politico que no se burlo de nuestro acento y que no nos vio como una carga," she said. "It's the one party that didn't make fun of our accents and that didn't see us as a liability." Now I am running for Insurance Commissioner to be the first LGBT leader elected statewide in California. Because even here in the birthplace of marriage equality, our coming out story is never complete.
Amelia Marquez, candidate for the Montana House of Representatives
When I was in high school, I started off by telling my closest friends that I was bi. It was a step towards trying to find out who I really was. In my sophomore year of high school, I was in the ensemble of RENT: School Edition at our community theatre. Being in RENT really opened my eyes to what life could be and that it didn't have to be so constrained.
After RENT, I came out as gay. Having a better support system in my own life made me feel better about myself and to allow myself room for self-discovery.
Once in college, I met people who helped me realize the importance of self-care. As a teenager in high school, I thought the busier I was the better. My anxiety was at an all-time high which eventually lead to major depression. I am thankful that friends and family helped me take care of myself. By my 2nd year of college, I was seeing a counselor and she helped me to really recognize that being different was not bad
When I officially came out as trans, I texted my family first. I texted what felt like a book about who I am and why it took me so long to get here. I told my closest friends. Everyone was so accepting.
Changing my name on Facebook was a big moment for me. That is how many individuals found out. I realize I don't need to appear a certain way just to make others feel more comfortable or to fit a certain stereotype. I dress how I want to dress and how I feel comfortable that day.
Josh Boschee, member of the North Dakota House of Representatives and candidate for North Dakota secretary of state
North Dakota is often described as one big town with really long roads. It's an easy place to know folks whom you've never met before because Six Degrees of Separation isn't just a game in our great state. It's a common conversation in which you discover you're distantly related or played basketball against each other in high school.
This is the very reason, like many other North Dakotans, I was deathly afraid of coming out publicly. Even though I lived in Fargo, 270 miles from most of my family, I feared that once I said the words "I'm gay" out loud, my family would find out almost immediately.
It took me leaving my home state for a summer graduate internship at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for me to be honest with myself and those closest to me. Over that summer, I mentored student leaders to be authentic leaders to build the trust and respect of new students participating in summer orientation. When one of the student leaders came out to us all one of our final nights together, I was in awe of his courage and strength. I realized that when I stood in front of the mirror, I wasn't being the authentic leader I challenged these students to be.
I committed to being my authentic self when I returned home to North Dakota. It was a two-year journey that proved my fears wrong as I didn't lose a single friend, family member, or my job for being myself.
Since the summer of 2005, I have committed to being an authentic leader in every aspect of my life. This commitment provided me strength when I ran and was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 2012, re-elected in 2016 and now as a candidate to be North Dakota's 15th Secretary of State.
Betsy Driver, member of the Flemington (N.J.) Borough City Council
I'm going to be on television tomorrow talking about what I was told to never talk about."
When I was growing up, it was made very clear to me that my existence was shameful. I was born with an obvious intersex variation and great effort was taken to reinforce to me that I should never tell anyone what was under my clothes. Being told by my childhood medical providers that I was the only person out there with a body like mine didn't help.
Dating and having to explain my intersex body while not having the language to do it accurately eventually took its toll on me. There were simply too many unanswered questions always swirling around my head. This was right around the time that computers were becoming household fixtures and in the late 1990s I acquired my first. Upon unboxing it, the first thing I did was look up - on altavista, I think; this was preGoogle - the congenital condition I was born with. And boom, in that instant, my life changed.
Over the course of maybe a year, I went from clueless about my history to learning about the details that had been hidden from me. Eventually, a television producer saw something I wrote and contacted me about doing an interview. I agreed. The night before it was to air, I called my mom with trepidation to tell her I was going to be on the program; it was the first time I had spoken to her about my ongoing journey of self-discovery. The program was awful - the edits didn't represent my story well, but it was the story that years of friends going all the way back to childhood now had of me. I was now out about my intersex story, even if it wasn't exactly correct.
I continue to come out every day; telling people about intersex is always an adventure because it so often requires explaining. Becoming the first openly intersex elected official in the United States and talking about how being on the front line of a new movement seeking basic human rights protections taught me resilience and strength. I use the fear I had to overcome to appear on national television that first time to help guide me as I try to make the right decisions for all my constituents. My history of shame and secrecy taught me to be absolutely fearless.
Christine Hallquist, candidate for governor of Vermont
I planned to go to my grave without coming out. I learned early on that it was not acceptable to be the true me. When I was growing up, transgender people were institutionalized. As a child, I was bullied and beaten by peers and teachers until I put on a costume and pretended to be someone else. My spouse and I agreed to keep it a secret.
It was for my children that I decided to come out. They deserved to know the real me. It's incredibly painful to not be your authentic self, but it's worse to not be yourself around your own children. I wanted the people I'd raised to know my truth.
It took me five years of counselling and working with my family to be ready to come out as my true self. When I came out to my coworkers and employees, I was certain I would not be accepted. I envisioned losing my job and my career, but they responded to my story with incredible support.
After transitioning, everything seems easier now that it's no longer a secret, I feel a peace I've never felt before. I now feel a responsibility to fight for those Vermonters who have not been welcomed in the way I was. I decided to run for governor after hearing a group of muslim high school girls perform slam poetry. They described the harassment they faced on a daily basis in Vermont. I knew I owed it to all Vermonters to make this state the welcoming and loving place it has been to me. I am striving to make this state a place where all people can thrive as their authentic selves.
Lauren Baer, candidate for Florida’s 18th Congressional District
"Are you sure that this is how you want to introduce yourself?" my well-meaning political consultant asked.
"Yes," I replied, forcing sarcasm and a smile. "What other candidate with an attractive spouse and an adorable child wouldn't want to include a family photo on their first campaign brochure."
In my mind, though, my response was more pointed: "I didn't wait thirty years to come out to hide who I was at the most public moment of my career."
On paper, coming out should have been easy for me. I had a loving, accepting family. My father openly embraced his gay employees. My mother socialized with gay friends. Our dinner table conversation often centered on acceptance of everyone, regardless of race, religion, or creed.
But I came of age in Florida in the 1990s. Homosexual relationships were still criminalized. At school, "faggot" was used as a playground slur.
I finally came out to my family and friends in 2010, days shy of my 30th birthday, when I'd fallen in love with the woman I would marry and knew that if I was going to fully accept myself I had to share my full self with others.
My community embraced me, personally and professionally. But I was acutely aware that others' coming out stories were not so simple. And so I committed myself to visibility and advocacy. I was determined to use my privilege to make coming out easier for others.
On the campaign trail, some people still say I shouldn't talk about being gay. But I can't imagine being anything but my authentic self. I'm a lawyer and a national security expert, but also a lesbian and a mom. I'm running as my whole self so that young people can be themselves. And I couldn't be more proud.
Sam Park, member of Georgia House of Representatives
Like many, coming out was not easy. I was born and raised in Georgia, grew up in a conservative Korean household, and raised a Southern Baptist. I was baptized multiple times just in case.
When I was 13 years old, Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered for being gay. A few of my friends were kicked out of their homes after coming out. I was scared of being outed. When I turned 18 years old, however, I knew I had to make a choice. I could either live a life of fear, or be fearless and learn to love myself.
I told my sisters first. My mom found out a year or two later. While my sisters took it well, my mom did not. There were many tears shed, and a lot of pain and sadness. My truth shattered her worldview and beliefs, and harmed our relationship, but love conquers all.
In 2014, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. I dropped everything I was doing, and became her primary caretaker for a few months. We had an opportunity to talk for hours, and grew very close. For the past three years she fought. Her fight, inspired me to stand and fight for those who need a voice. So, I ran for office. Although she passed away earlier this year, I know I made her proud as the first openly gay man elected to the Georgia State Legislature, and I am comforted by knowing she loved me unconditionally.
Cecil Brockman, member of the North Carolina House of Representatives
I can still remember the shock that I felt sitting in the restaurant.
Enjoying a meal with two friends -- a gay, married couple -- I was taken aback as a man rudely yelled at our table because my friends were wearing buttons opposing North Carolina's discriminatory H.B. 2. This incident helped show me why open LGBTQ representation matters.
So I made the difficult decision to open myself up to the world and serve as an openly-LGBTQ state representative. I knew that this revelation might affect certain relationships I had or make people view me differently, but I also knew how crucial it was to have an openly-LGBTQ voice in our General Assembly.
In my time as a legislator I have seen attacks on LGBTQ equality in the form of S.B. 2, the Magistrates bill, and H.B. 2, the bathroom bill, not to mention all sorts of ignorant rhetoric. Coming out meant that the LGBTQ citizens of our state knew that someone had their back. It also would show my colleagues that these discriminatory bills aren't just exercises in rallying their base; they affect real people like me.
Because of that, I will never stop fighting or using my voice as an openly-LGBTQ representative on behalf of our community.
Matt Titone (left), member of the New York Assembly and candidate for New York Surrogate Court of Richmond County
Moms always know. Even when they don't want to know, they know. When they ask, "are you gay?" you can bet what they're really saying is, "I know you are, but I need to hear it from you." Dads too. My parents grew up first generation Italian Americans. To them gay people were nothing more than a rumor. By the time they were raising a family the turbulent sixties had come and gone and they survived it. It was the 70s and they even knew a gay person! Mr. James, to be exact, my mother's flashy hairdresser who steered her and her friends to everything chic and happening. Exotic things...like fondue.
I grew up believing, as my parents did, that all gay people were like Mr. James - flamboyant hairdressers. The thought of being stereotyped into someone I simply wasn't scared the crap out of me. I did not want to be "Mr. James". All the little comments I overheard about him, time and time again at family gatherings grew to be big statements. Message received loud and clear. It was best to hide my truth from family and myself. As paralyzingly as it was, my utterly stupid desire to be their version of "normal" had the seeds of powerful blessings as well.
During my college years I had a girlfriend. A woman I truly loved and still do. To this day her beauty, grace and intellect take my breath away. Had I not tried to live my lie, Josh and I never would have Laura and her beautiful family in our lives. As I became more emotionally and physically unavailable she became more frustrated and confused. In the end, I pushed her away and she of course moved on. Man, was I a shitty boyfriend!
Laura, like my family, knew. They just needed to hear it from me and I needed to hear it from me too. After a fair share of secret "relationships"...BAM! Josh! That's when I knew, and that's when I couldn't say it loud enough. I'm gay. There is no amount of fear, loathing, or ignorant boogeymen you can throw my way that will make me fall. I might stumble, but with my husband Josh, I will not fall.
And to Mr. James, wherever you are, thank you. Message received PROUD and clear.
Neil Rafferty, candidate for Alabama House of Representatives
I was 13 years old. I told my family first. My adult sister had just come out earlier that summer so I was emboldened with the assurance that I was not alone. My father admitted that he wished I weren't gay -- not because of who I was, but because of what the world was.
I understood his meaning once I entered the gauntlet of school's locker-lined hallways. The support, kindness, and empathy of my family, teachers, and closest friends mitigated the fear and isolation of being the only out student in middle school. But after I had turned 16, I had had enough. I transferred schools and went back into the closet to finally evade the bullying and completed high school in relative peace.
I fell in love -- hard -- with a US Marine, one month before his second tour in Iraq. He deployed; I waited. He returned; I enlisted. I did not want him to go again; but if he had to then he wouldn't go alone. We're still together 14 years later.
The year was 2005, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell was in full force. We served in the same reserve unit and kept a low profile. I am proud and honored to have served my country and my fellow Marines, but without the choice to come out, I was back in the closet. After DADT was repealed, the closet slowly fell away. And I began to use pronouns unambiguously in conversations about relationships.
Coming out is not an event. It's a process, a shared experience -- frightening, challenging, sometimes painful -- that defines us as members of the LGBTQ community. Coming out was the crucible in which my identity and my convictions were forged. My experience charged my heart to empathize with those who find themselves on the outside looking in and to appreciate those who have stood in the fire with me. It taught me the importance of service and sacrifice. It made me tougher, more resilient, and more committed to building a more just world for everyone.