While speaking at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23 to promote legislation that would help protect the LGBTQ community from hate crimes, state senator Jim Ferlo publicly came out as gay. “Hundreds of people know I’m gay. I just never felt like I had to wear a billboard on my forehead. But I’m gay. Get over it. I love it. It’s a great life,” Ferlo said to the crowd. Ferlo’s public declaration of his sexuality is extremely important — there are not many American politicians who are openly gay.
The culture of U.S. politics has historically and distinctly been heterosexual, with the image of the quintessential politician being the all-American man with a wife and two kids. It has fostered a political environment where gay politicians are compelled to hide and deny their sexuality, as well as rendering the idea of an LGBTQ politician an unusual concept. In spite of this perception, the notion that a heterosexual individual is more qualified for politics than a homosexual individual is unfounded. There is no credible evidence that sexuality causes or correlates with political skill. As such, Americans should not register it into their opinions of their legislators.
A politician’s homosexuality would not inherently make him or her morally unsound. The image of the politician with a wife and two children could easily be just an illusion. Perception does not always equate with reality. A considerable number of supposed family men revealed themselves to lack moral character. The Monica Lewinsky scandal notoriously marred the presidency of Bill Clinton, a heterosexual man with a wife and then-teenaged daughter. Clinton is in equally lecherous company with former Presidents Thomas Jefferson, William Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, among many others. Their heterosexuality did not prevent them from participating in promiscuous behavior while in office.
Thankfully, society has progressed in several respects — electing more gay leaders and effectively addressing more LGBTQ issues. Acceptance of gay rights has become more widely embraced, and a March 2014 survey showed that support for gay marriage is at the highest it has ever been with 59 percent of Americans supporting marriage equality. This shift has significantly altered the relationship between sexuality and politics. More politicians are identifying as openly gay and and being electorally successful.
At the same time, LGBTQ politicians are still very much in the minority, and there are still obstacles for gay politicians to thrive in politics. To ensure that the progress that has occurred continues, support needs to be thrown behind LGBTQ presence in politics. More openly gay politicians like Ferlo, who are outspoken about their sexuality and push for the respect and the rights of the LGBTQ community, are needed. Having more openly gay politicians would communicate to the public that politicians should be elected to office regardless of their sexuality. Continued acceptance by the American populace is also critical to foster a more diverse political landscape. Politicians should be judged by their intellect, judgment, experience, compassion and dedication to their constituents. Sexuality should never be part of the equation.
Email Lena Rawley at [email protected]