Gay and President?

Dear Alice,

At this stage of the game, I think I am gay. I often fantasize about a friend I have known for a while, I am not sure if he is gay, but sometimes I convince myself he is, other times I'm convinced he's not. I really like him and want more than to just fantasize about him. The problem is I am relatively popular in school and coming out would be a huge massive disruption in my life, and the problem is further complicated by this: the one thing I want in life is to be a successful politician (perhaps even president). I have wanted this for as long as I can remember. If I am openly gay, THERE IS NO WAY I will win any election, let alone a national one. What am I to do?

Dear Reader,

You certainly broach an interesting question about how identity intersects with public persona. It seems that the prominent issue to focus on right now might be coming to terms with your own feelings about your sexuality. Once you process and become comfortable with the difficult decisions you’ll make while clarifying your sexual identity, you might then begin to narrow in on what actions you take next. As these questions are addressed — which may, understandably, take a while — your decisions about whether to pursue public office will probably be easier to make because you'll know where you stand and what you want others to know about you. Many past readers have posed similar questions, so taking some time to read those Q&As might aid your decision-making process around stepping onto the campaign trail. However, while you note that you're interested in political office, you may consider that being openly gay and running for office are no longer mutually exclusive.  

For discussion's sake, say you decide to come out as gay today, in a few months, or even in several years. Why dismiss the possibility that you can be both gay and President, especially several years down the road? Though the United States hasn't had a gay President yet, times have been changing. Just last century, it could have been hard to imagine politicians that held any identities other than straight, White man. However, since then, the United States has seen a Black President, women Senators, Latino Supreme Court Justices, Jewish Cabinet members, openly gay Congress members, mayors, among others. In recent years, the election of the first openly transgender U.S. Senator, also made waves. Senator Sarah McBride feared, just as you are now, that her identity would stifle her political career, but experienced just the opposite!

Not only have there been global efforts to break down barriers to elected offices based on gender, race, and religion, but many of today's voters are also either dismissing the rhetoric that candidates' sexual orientations will interfere with their ability to get the job done, or they're choosing to see their honesty and identity status as honorable assets that will better reflect the ever-expanding diversity of the electorate they represent. In fact, one report states that openly gay political leaders serve in nearly every state in the country. 

The voters have symbolized their respect for openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) politicians by electing almost 1,000 openly LGBTQ+ officials nationwide. Though LGBTQ+ people are still underrepresented in government, there continues to be an increase in the number of LGBTQ+ officials elected to local and national positions. Here's a partial list of openly LGBTQ+ folks who have been in office: 

  • In New York, Joan Lobis (an out lesbian) serves as a Supreme Court Justice.
  • In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was elected as the nation’s first out lesbian Senator and member of the House of Representatives
  • In Minnesota, Andrea Jenkins was the first Black, openly transgender woman elected to office in the United States
  • In Illinois, Lori Lightfoot was elected as Chicago’s first openly gay mayor.

Since many budding politicians’ lives are so thoroughly investigated from the moment they announce their candidacies, it might be tough for you to conceal your sexual orientation, if you choose to do so. While it may be difficult to hide, sharing more about your life may also help you connect with constituents who are looking to see themselves in their elected officials. This doesn't mean that you would need to pass out buttons with your name and "for gay President" on them. However, it would allow you to live your life more freely, hang out with who you want, see the movies you want to see, support the causes you want to support — without putting a spin on everything to "prove" that you're as straight as they come.

Your popularity in school will likely help you with whatever your goals are, from running for Student Council to coming out. If you do decide to go with the latter, it would be wise to have supporters around you: trusted friends, your family, a teacher, or others who you can count on. There are even organizations designed to develop LGBTQ+ people's political ambitions and connect them with valuable opportunities such as internships or training. One such organization is called the Victory Institute. Joining a group like this could help you meet others in your same position, or even those who have come before you!

Coming out is a big decision, and for some, it may not be safe. When considering the legislation being implemented across the country to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people, it's certainly understandable why you'd be hesitant about coming out. Just as many people have reasons for wanting to come out, many have reasons for not wanting to do so. If you feel confident that coming out and running for office aren't in the cards for you, taking some time to reflect on what you value most will be a wise step for you. How strongly do you feel about this other person? How strongly do you want a career in politics? Are you willing to give up one or the other? How do either of those decisions feel for the long-term? If you were to come out, would you have a support system available to you? Thinking through some of these questions can help you figure out what you'd like to do in the short-term and what you may decide for the future. If you're looking for additional support, speaking with a mental health professional may also give you some guidance. While things have changed and being out and a politician may be possible, your road to elected official may look a bit different. Only you can decide whether or not being out is something that you feel comfortable with and how you want to proceed.

Good luck!

Last updated Apr 22, 2022
Originally published Oct 11, 2002

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