Coming out can be rough in any circumstance, but with homosexuality being a major subject of contention politically, it must be especially intimidating for politicians themselves. Still, that hasn’t stopped some elected officials from stepping forward to acknowledge their sexuality. Here are the stories of five politicians who came out while in office (excluding politicians who were openly gay before taking office, as well as those who were essentially pushed out of the closet by way of embarrassing sex scandals) that share their motivations for declaring their sexual orientations publicly:
1. Steve Gallardo
Amidst conversation about Arizona’s now-rejected discriminatory anti-gay bill this past week, Gallardo, Arizona’s state Senate Minority Whip, decided to end his silence: “It just hit me that this will affect me directly and that I had to let everyone know that I was gay,” Gallardo said.
Keeping it simple, Gallardo declared, “I’m gay, I am Latino, I’m a state senator, and it’s okay.” Though Gallardo acknowledged his admission is risky considering his future political ambitions, he has a history of being vocal for issues about which he’s passionate. While serving as a state legislator for 12 years, the Democrat has led the state’s charge on immigration, election and workers’ rights reform.
2. Michael Michaud
Following six consecutive elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, Maine Rep. Michaud addressed speculation and came out in the Portland Press Herald last November: “I write this now merely to let my opponents and the outside interests who fund them know that I am not ashamed of who I am. And if seeing someone from my background, in my position openly acknowledge the fact that he’s gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better.”
The timing is especially important given that Michaud is currently running for governor of Maine. He has demonstrated that his sexuality has no bearing on his work as a legislator and wants his constituents’ vote of confidence to serve as his state’s leader. Michaud could become the first (or second, depending how you look at it) openly gay governor. Previously, Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey came out while simultaneously resigning.
3. Evelyn Mantilla
Just months after winning a seat in the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1997, state Rep. Mantilla felt emboldened enough to come out during her state’s annual Pride activities. To a cheering crowd, Mantilla announced, “I am a bisexual woman in love with a woman!” She then invited her partner on the stage and proposed marriage to her.
Initially, there was concern that coming out would alienate the large Puerto Rican constituency in Mantilla’s district. A local minister even ran against her in the following election with a blatantly homophobic campaign, yet Mantilla held her seat for 10 years until choosing not to run again in 2006.
4. Mike Fleck
After serving as a Republican Pennsylvania legislator for six years, the state Rep. Fleck acknowledged his sexuality openly following his 2012 reelection. “Coming out is hard enough, but doing it in the public eye is definitely something I never anticipated.”
Despite Republican’s notorious anti-gay stances, Fleck pledged to stand by his party, saying that his political identity is about more than one issue. He previously hoped that marrying a woman would help change his orientation, to no avail. For Fleck, coming out is about being honest with not only others, but also himself. “I’m still a person of faith trying to live as a servant of God and the public,” he said. “The only difference now is that I will also be doing so as honestly as I know how.”
5. Kelvin Atkinson
When the Nevada senate debated repealing a voter-approved ban on gay marriage, state Senator Atkinson decided it would be appropriate to some humanity to the discussion by owning up to a secret of his own: “I’m black, I’m gay.” Addressing the argument that same-sex marriage is somehow dangerous to heterosexual matrimony, he added, “If this hurts your marriage, then your marriage was in trouble in the first place.”
His heartfelt speech was definitely convincing. By a vote of 12 to 9, the state senators ultimately opted to repeal the ban. (Nevada voters will still need to approve the change on the 2016 ballot before it can take effect, however.) Although Atkinson admits he was nervous how his fellow senators would react since most did not know of his sexuality, their response was comforting. “About ten of my colleagues came up to me and hugged me and said ‘congratulations,’ so it was a good feeling,” Atkinson said.
Photos taken from politicians' own social media accounts.