A Victory Strategy
In his op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that ran April 24, 2019, and the subsequent tweeting out of it, Cort VanOstran – who ran for election to the Second District of Missouri’s seat in Congress in the midterm election – argued clearly and judiciously for action in Congress for securing the rights of LGBT Americans.
Deep in the op-ed, he wrote of his own contemporaneous coming-out as gay.
Cheers for his clear demand for equity. But as a homosexual human, should he have waited so long to emerge from his closet, or was a delay the sensible thing to do?
I heard from one gay friend and supporter of VanOstran who said his waiting to come out amounted to political cowardice, that the fact of his being a reluctant debutante for so long was dishonest.
What must, must be considered is the fact that in the current ugly political world of the USA, the importance of winning – especially in races such as the Second Congressional District of Missouri – is paramount to one’s decision to keep their own counsel and remain quiet about their sexuality. Dissembling was part of the strategy of victory.
Ironically, coming out in 2019 in the current Trumpian climate of hate and disrespect for anyone who is not a straight white Christian Protestant is far more difficult than in 1987, during the pre-”don’t ask, don’t tell” presidency of Ronald Reagan when I tip-toed terrified out of the closet. I’d feared repercussions then, and was amazed to find there were none. I was fortunate, I admit, but my situation was that of many gay men and women, and not universal. The name of those who suffered was legion, however, and cannot be overlooked.
So it is scary, folks, to see the official anti-LGBT forces seeking to reverse hard-won protection in the workplace, in freedom-of-residence situations, and to witness the self-righteous right’s foot-stamping about bathrooms.
And so, VanOstran ventures in 2019, “Being gay isn’t something I’ve tried to hide, but it’s not something I talked about publicly during the campaign, either. Perhaps I wasn’t quite ready, but mostly, I never thought it was relevant to the question the voters of the 2nd District were trying to answer: Are you the best candidate to represent us in Congress? After all, to paraphrase presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, being gay has nothing to do with anyone’s ability to lead to listen to neighbors, stick to guiding principles or work to improve lives and communities.”
I shared VanOstran’s timidity – but that was three decades ago, and coming-out for me was surprisingly easy and redemptive. The sword of Damocles simply disappeared for the first time in my sexuality-aware life.
But I wasn’t running for public office in an atmosphere of discontent and gay-bashing. I also recognize that personal choice is a right, and as long as it doesn’t involve dishonesty, we should accept it. I opt for empathy for VanOstran and anyone else who contemplates turning the knob on the closet door.
Cort almost beat Republican Ann Wagner, and for those who worked for him and voted for him, his near win was a victory. “Close” entitled him to the proverbial cigar.
I hope as a good man, a good candidate, a stalwart liberal, and a thoughtful citizen, that he is in the political swim for good. And that come his next election, he is running on a platform of acknowledged leadership, of being a thoughtful listener and a young and vital force in the party. I hope too that he feels the sense of relief that comes with outing himself, and that he will feel proud of presenting himself publicly as a gay person of intelligence and candor and a worthy public servant.
As such, he would be a model to LGBT men and women who want not simply to survive in an increasingly hostile environment but also to enter public life to improve the lives of all and the diverse communities in which we live.