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By Jeremy Moss
“If you’re gay, everybody makes a ginormous deal out of it. You practically have to hold a news conference and take an ad out of the newspaper. Why? Just because it’s not what most people do? That doesn’t seem fair.”
Those racing thoughts from the gay teenage character contemplating coming out to his parents in Michael Thomas Ford’s novel, “Suicide Notes,” still stick with me after first reading them nearly six years ago when I was struggling with my own sexual orientation.
In early 2009, I quietly came out to friends and family – but not all my friends and family. Just like Ford’s character, I didn’t feel the need to send out a press release to anyone beyond my inner circle. Oct. 11, 2009 – National Coming Out Day – came and went without any fanfare from me. I was out to myself and some people close to me, and that was good enough.
But I soon realized that being closeted by omission of truth wasn’t much easier than being closeted by denial of truth. I strained to navigate ways to shut down family members trying to set me up with single women without having to explicitly state why.
When I successfully ran for a seat on the Southfield City Council in 2011, I was still straddling the out-but-not-out line. I spent that summer on the campaign trail avoiding any discussion of social issues the city faced, including LGBT rights. I was afraid that overtly championing any LGBT issues – such as expanding anti-discrimination protections on the municipal level – would narrowly label me as “the gay candidate” and not a candidate who happened to be gay.
But as the campaign headed into the fall, a news report I saw on television changed my entire views on the difference between accepting my sexual orientation and embracing my sexual orientation.
In Sept. of 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer, a bisexual teen from Buffalo, N.Y., killed himself after being subjected to severe bullying by classmates and hate messages from anonymous posters on social media. Following his death, his parents went on the Today Show to tell Jamey’s story and revealed that those same bullies had recently disrupted his school’s homecoming dance and chanted they were glad Jamey was dead.
I watched that report and it gave me chills. The bullies that Jamey had to deal with were so harsh that they were still bullying him even after he killed himself.
No gay kid should feel that life isn’t worth living because they are gay. No gay kid should feel so alone because there aren’t enough visible, out gay people around them.
Gay people should see out gay role models in every walk of life and in every profession: in business, in sports and, yes, in politics. It became clear to me that I needed to embrace, and not avoid, the role I could play as a gay elected official – especially for gay kids in Michigan who are struggling just like Jamey did.
When I was elected to the Southfield City Council, I made it a priority to champion an inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance in Southfield to protect the LGBT community in our city borders. No one should be fired or denied housing just because they are gay or transgender, and I’m working so that Southfield can join one of the more than 30 cities in the state that have offered such protections.
Increasing my visibility as an out elected official has actually diminished my initial fear that I would be simply labeled as the gay councilman. I’ve voted on consecutive balanced municipal budgets, helped to lead Southfield to a seven-year low in crime citywide and successfully pushed for the total reconstruction of the worst roads in the city. With those results, few – if any – have taken issue with my sexual orientation.
This past August, I won the Democratic nomination for State Representative in the Southfield-based seat, and I ran as an openly-gay candidate – something I did not do when I ran for City Council – with strong support from national groups, including the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Gill Action Fund.
I received notes of support and even campaign donations from gay people and allies across the country – people I’d never met but wanted to let me know they appreciated me standing up to represent the LGBT community.
And I was rewarded with votes for being an out candidate, beyond from those who I would typically peg as LGBT rights supporters. A senior citizen I spoke with on Primary Election Day at her polling location in Southfield told me that she was voting for me for State Representative because I’ve been a good City Councilman. And then she stunned me by telling me that she was also voting for me because the state needs good LGBT representation.
Alongside Jon Hoadley, who emerged from his Democratic primary election in Kalamazoo, we are poised to bring long-awaited LGBT representation to the Michigan House of Representatives where there currently are no out officials.
Ultimately, I look back at the words of Ford’s character and hope that gay people don’t continue to compare the enormity of coming out to holding a news conference, as I once felt. For me, coming out continues to be nothing but a positive experience. With every person who comes out, we inch closer to affecting major changes in public policy and LGBT rights. But just as important, out people in everyday life can give individuals like Jamey across this country a little bit of hope before it’s too late.
On National Coming Out Day in 2009, I was too scared to do it. On National Coming Out Day in 2011, I didn’t see a need to do it. On National Coming Out Day in 2014, I’m proud to do it.