Recently, the sexuality of Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois, an anti-gay rights Republican, has become an Internet obsession because of a Facebook “outing” by journalist Itay Hod. People have responded in two ways: to say outing him is justified because of his position; or to mock him with gay stereotypes as “proof” that he is gay.
Many of us have seen someone come out of the closet in a public way: Jodi Foster at the Golden Globes, Wentworth Miller in his open letter to the St. Petersburg International Film Festival, clips from celebrities on YouTube. Maybe you’ve seen someone in your family come out.
You may not realize that it’s probably not the first time that person has come out, and it certainly will not be the last. I am an out gay man. I am out to my family, my friends, my classmates, and all my co-workers since 2001. And now I am out to whomever is reading this.
Life for a gay person is a constant stream of decisions whether, or when, to let the boss, friend, grandmother or random acquaintance know he or she is gay. It happens over and over for your entire life and, while it gets less traumatizing and you get better at it as you age, it is always a hurdle in any new relationship.
But that first time — that is traumatic, whether it goes well or not. You are admitting it to yourself just as much as you are admitting it to the person to whom you are speaking. You’re fearing rejection, hatred, offers to “fix” you, being thrown out of your home or community, or even violence. Imagine facing that not on your own terms but because someone is forcing it on you. Outing isn’t just “the act of disclosing [an LGBT] person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s consent,” it’s imposing a huge emotional burden with potentially huge consequences on someone who isn’t ready.
If you asked Itay Hod whether a 13-year-old boy in a small Southern town should be outed, I guarantee he would say no. That’s a horrible weight to place on a child, unprepared for the consequences. The difference, I imagine he would say, is that Rep. Schock is a grown-up who he believes to be living a lie in a public position — that Schock’s hypocrisy is affecting all of us through his legislative action and the power of his position.
But let me assure you, age has no bearing on the difficulty of coming out. If Schock is gay — and I have no idea if he is — then he is in the closet because he is not prepared to come out. He is still scared. If he is gay, then he has built an entire life and entire career on one ideal that is fundamentally at odds with who he is, and he has to come to terms with that on his own time. Nothing ever makes someone a justified target for angry, thoughtless retribution.
Further, it is within Rep. Schock’s rights and responsibilities in a democratic republic, to legislate his conscience. That the legislative reflection of his conscience is anti-gay just goes to show that he is either: straight and as morally conservative as he says; or that he is incredibly conflicted in his life. And keep in mind that we don’t want to fall into the trap of making assumptions about someone’s sexuality based on mannerisms, being single, style of dress, or media accusations. It was just last August that Corey Booker endured the same thing that Rep. Schock is enduring right now during his campaign for Senate. Senator Booker handled the claims with poise and dignity and didn’t allow them to affect his lifestyle or his campaign.
What kind of example are we setting for men and women across America, especially those in the public eye who we really need to be open and proud, struggling with the idea of coming out? That this could be thrust upon you at any moment? Or worse, that your everyday life and traits will be examined and mocked as “gay” by the members of the very community you wish to join if you don’t come out on their timetable? (I’m looking at you Dan Savage and Michael Signorile.)
A person’s public life does not give anyone the right to make this sort of monumental decision for him. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called…” (Peter 3:9). How much more an ally will Aaron Schock be if he comes out in love and support rather than hatred and ridicule? Outing doesn’t help our community, and it doesn’t help the person who now has to deal with this onslaught. We are best served by continuing to fight the good fight in legislatures and courts, and by providing love and support for the members of the LGBT community, in and out of the closet.