The importance of coming out to elected officials
By Laurie Young, Ph.D., director of aging and economic security, National Gay and LesbianTask Force
On October 10, former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine who is running for Senate spoke at a candidate’s forum on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in Fairfax, Virginia (former Governor and Senator George Allen, Governor Kaine’s opponent, was also invited to the event but declined to attend). It was an excellent opportunity for the candidates to listen to concerns of voters about these three government programs that have become a lightning rod during this election season.
Many candidates are offering their opinions as to the relative strength and success of these government funded programs which, together and individually, form a very basic safety-net for all Americans. Nearly everyone benefits at some point in their lives from at least one, if not more, of these programs that promise the benefit of limited income and health insurance. On Social Security, Governor Kaine reiterated his belief that there is no crisis in Social Security and that it is not going broke. On Medicare he talked about the importance of cost saving measures and preserving the system to extend the solvency of that program. He spoke with great enthusiasm for these programs and spoke of the threats that privatization would pose on the American public.
When asked about his position regarding the recognition of same-sex marriage, the former Governor said he supported full equality for same-sex couples. He said that same-sex couples should have all the benefits and legal rights that he and his wife enjoy. While he deferred to states’ rights on the definition of marriage he said that the federal government should extend protections to same-sex couples no matter what their relationship is called. His position was nuanced to extend federal benefits beyond marriage, to include civil unions and domestic partnerships. The benefit to same-sex couples living in anti-marriage states would be immense – they could receive the rights and benefits conferred by the federal government despite their own state government’s discrimination. To help make all of this happen he said he would vote to repeal the federal DOMA law.
After the end of the forum, I waited to speak with him, and thanked him for his position on same-sex relationship recognition at the federal level. As we spoke I introduced him to my wife, and said his positions were critical for us. I spoke about how quickly the attitudes of people have shifted towards acceptance and away from persecution and prosecution. It was at that moment that Governor Kaine said, “Well, that’s because of you, and your wife and the countless numbers of people who are courageous and honest and come-out of the closet to educate people about the issues. You are the people changing hearts and minds.”
On National Coming Out Day I urge you to come out as LGBT and/or an ally not only to your friends, family and coworkers, but also to your elected officials. Sharing our stories can change the hearts and minds of community leaders and policy makers. In this election season I urge you to find out how each of the candidates asking for your vote stands on the issues that are most important to you. To find out more about the issues at stake in this election, and to register to vote, visit www.queerthevote.org to find out more.