One Equal World

The Politics of Coming Out

Posted on: December 20, 2013

Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is one of the most difficult experiences an individual can go through. There is fear of rejection, alienation, and of losing those dearest to you. For politicians that rely heavily on public opinion in order to earn votes, coming out is not only deeply personal, but also highly political. Of course there are many gay and lesbian public figures and politicians (both closeted and out), but those who have been brave enough to come out have had a much more strategic, public experience in doing so.

coming out of the closet

Closeted politicians are under pressure to come out “strategically.”
Image: Shutterstock

Just take Pennsylvania politician Mike Fleck as an example. According to The Washington Blade, “A gay Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives created a stir last week when he told the Philadelphia Gay News in an interview that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund urged him to delay coming out until after the November 2012 election and possibly later.”

Reportedly, Mike Fleck has explained how the Victory Fund continuously tried swaying him, saying “No, no, you’ve got a lot of people in tough races, your colleagues, and this isn’t an issue in their race. You can come out and put them like a deer in the headlights, have them asked things like, ‘Your best friend just came out, where are you on equality legislation?” of the ways in which he was constantly forced to put his own identity on the backburner. Political strategists and coaches urged Fleck to stay closeted until the opportune moment arrived when coming out would be politically beneficial. Is there no better evidence of the privilege that heterosexual politicians possess, and the growing political tumult that exists for gay and lesbian public figures and politicians?

Happily, Fleck’s position has not been overtly threatened by his courageous coming out, and one can imagine that he must feel relieved after such an enormous burden has been lifted. There are many others who struggle with their sexual identities in political realms; Openly gay Republican strategist Ken Mehlman remained closeted for years in the public eye before finally coming out. Reportedly, Mehlman consulted with Fleck about coming out, illustrating the massive political implications that could follow such an admission.

For Mehlman, Fleck, and other LGBTs in politics, coming out is more than just recognizing your true identity; it’s often a dangerous, controversial admission that could devastate one’s political career.

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