I came out of the closet the year I first ran for office. At the time, my then-mentor told me she loved me, but that unfortunately I couldn’t run for office. The thought of an out gay legislator deep in the working-class suburbs was unheard of at the time.
This was almost twenty-five years ago. But today is National Coming Out Day, a day we celebrate the joy of coming out – and acknowledge how unfortunately common stories like mine still are. LGBTQ+ elected officials like myself are still urged to hide who we are to appeal to voters. But in my case – as you’ll read – voters and supporters are more accepting than we assume.
I had started coming out to my family and close friends, but not broadly or publicly. I struggled with how to best share the information in public without making a big deal out of it. Working with a communications consultant, we decided I wouldn’t make an “announcement,” but instead would just reference it casually as if I assumed everyone already knew.
I gave a carefully scripted speech announcing my candidacy to my local party organization. I spoke about how we live in a country that holds the promise of freedom and opportunity for all, but that the promise had not yet been fulfilled. I then said; “Women still make 80 cents on the dollar. Those of us who are gay or lesbian can be fired from our job because of who we are….” When I said “those of us” I gestured subtly toward myself.
I remember an elderly couple in the front row turned and looked at each other in shock when I said that.
Afterwards, most people just assumed they were the only ones who didn’t know. I won my race and made history as the first out LGBTQ+ legislator outside the City of Seattle in the history of the State of Washington.
When I think about that day, 25 years ago, I think about how far we’ve moved forward – that for so many, coming out and running as an out candidate isn’t something to hide. I’m heartened to know there are organizations like Victory Institute, who train LGBTQ+ candidates to run as out and proud individuals – and who help them serve openly while in office.
King County Council, District 5, WA