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REAL SOLUTIONS FOR EDUCATION

death and life of education

It's a pretty standard coming-out story, with a couple of wrinkles (like it's a U.S. senator's son)

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Rob and Jane Portman's son does his parents proud.
(No, the photo isn't from the YDN. It's from Twitter.)


"It gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me. . . .

"I hope that my dad's announcement and our family's story will have a positive impact on anyone who is closeted and afraid, and questioning whether there's something wrong with them. I've been there. If you're there now, please know that things really do get better, and they will for you too."

-- Yale junior Will Portman, in a Yale Daily News
guest column today, "Coming out"

by Ken

It's a pretty familiar coming-out story, with perhaps two side notes. First, the storyteller is Will Portman, the now-famously gay son of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is probably now the most famously gay college junior in the country.

I came to Yale as a freshman in the fall of 2010 with two big uncertainties hanging over my head: whether my dad would get elected to the Senate in November, and whether I'd ever work up the courage to come out of the closet.

I made some good friends that first semester, took a couple of interesting classes and got involved in a few rewarding activities. My dad won his election. On the surface, things looked like they were going well. But the truth was, I wasn't happy.

I'd make stuff up when my suitemates and I would talk about our personal lives. I remember going to a dance in the Trumbull dining hall with a girl in my class and feeling guilty about pretending to be somebody I wasn't. One night, I snuck up to the stacks in Sterling Library and did some research on coming out. The thought of telling people I was gay was pretty terrifying, but I was beginning to realize that coming out, however difficult it seemed, was a lot better than the alternative: staying in, all alone.

I worried about how my friends back home would react when I told them I was gay. Would they stop hanging out with me? Would they tell me they were supportive, but then slowly distance themselves? And what about my friends at Yale, the "Gay Ivy"? Would they criticize me for not having come out earlier? Would they be able to understand my anxiety about all of this? I felt like I didn't quite fit in with Yale or Cincinnati, or with gay or straight culture. . . .

Second, as Will explains in his guest column today in the Yale Daily News, when he finally got up his courage to come out to his parents, they were "absolutely rock-solid supportive."
In February of freshman year, I decided to write a letter to my parents. I'd tried to come out to them in person over winter break but hadn't been able to. So I found a cubicle in Bass Library one day and went to work. Once I had something I was satisfied with, I overnighted it to my parents and awaited a response.

They called as soon as they got the letter. They were surprised to learn I was gay, and full of questions, but absolutely rock-solid supportive. That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was.

Later Will writes that now both his Yale friends and his father's Ohio political associates "know two things about me that I'm very proud of, not just one or the other: that I'm gay, and that I'm Rob and Jane Portman's son."

For which you have to give a hat tip at least to Rob and Jane. The takeaway line here is Will's statement that his parents' absolutely rock-solid support "was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was."

Parenting is supposed to be about helping your kids be the best version of themselves they can, and the Portmans rose to this challenge. I imagine this is becoming more common these days, and happily so. But while there were always cases where this happened, it has hardly been the norm. The coming-out-to-the-parents has more often occasioned some measure of trauma and heartache not all that different from what the out-comer dreaded all along, with one if not both parents.

"By the end of freshman year," Will writes, "I'd only come out to my parents, my brother and sister, and two friends." He tells a charming story -- again, absolutely typical for the coming-out genre, but no less charming for that -- about coming out that summer to his best friend from high school.

"There's something I need to tell you," I finally said. "I'm gay." He paused for a second, looked down at the ground, looked back up, and said, "Me too."

I was surprised. At first it was funny, and we made jokes about our lack of gaydar. Then it was kind of sad to realize that we'd been going through the same thing all along but hadn't felt safe enough to confide in each other. But then, it was pretty cool -- we probably understood each other's situation at that moment better than anybody else could.

And then, Will says, he "got serious about coming out," to the rest of his family and friends. "Virtually everyone," he says, "was supportive and encouraging, calming my fears about how they'd react to my news." Coming out "seemed to strengthen my friendships and family relationships."

At this point, that first "special consideration" comes increasingly into play. By this time Will's father was a U.S. senator, and with an increasingly gay son at that hotbed of inconspicuousness, Yale University. He and his family realized that the clock was ticking.

the summer of 2012, my dad was under consideration to be Gov. Romney's running mate. The rest of my family and I had given him the go-ahead to enter the vetting process. My dad told the Romney campaign that I was gay, that he and my mom were supportive and proud of their son, and that we'd be open about it on the campaign trail.

When he ultimately wasn't chosen for the ticket, I was pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign. Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public.

Which has a lot to do with the two-year gap between the senator learning about his son's sexual orientation and the public revelation.
We had decided that my dad would talk about having a gay son if he were to change his position on marriage equality. It would be the only honest way to explain his change of heart. Besides, the fact that I was gay would probably become public anyway. I had encouraged my dad all along to change his position, but it gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me.

It has been strange to have my personal life in the headlines. I could certainly do without having my sexual orientation announced on the evening news, or commentators weighing in to tell me things like living my life honestly and fully is "harmful to [me] and society as a whole." But in many ways it's been a privilege to come out so publicly. Now, my friends at Yale and the folks in my dad's political orbit in Ohio are all on the same page. They know two things about me that I'm very proud of, not just one or the other: that I'm gay, and that I'm Rob and Jane Portman's son.

As a colleague noted, it must be a pretty terrifying thing to be 19 and find yourself at the center of a national hubbub like this, and it's hard to imagine handling it with more smarts or class than Will has. I've already tacked the conclusion of his column onto the quote at the top of this post, but it's worth repeating:
I hope that my dad's announcement and our family's story will have a positive impact on anyone who is closeted and afraid, and questioning whether there's something wrong with them. I've been there. If you're there now, please know that things really do get better, and they will for you too.

AS I WROTE LAST WEEK, IT'S STILL UP TO THE
SENATOR TO DO AT LEAST ONE MORE THING

Again, I'm not going to dictate what it has to be. It's just that the senator is probably thinking that coming out in favor of marriage equality took huge courage, and I suppose in his world this is true. But his world isn't really the real world. It's just the big Right-Wing Bubble. In the real world, changing your position on marriage equality because you happen to have a gay son doesn't count for all that much.

For that matter, it may not even be all that unwelcome. From Politico's Anna Palmer and Tarini Parti comes a report that "Republicans see cash opportunity in gay marriage shift":

Republican fundraisers say the changing views of gay marriage in their party could unlock big money from GOP donors in places like New York, California and Florida -- where some Republicans have kept their checkbooks closed over what they saw as misplaced priorities, at best, or intolerance, at worst, at the highest ranks of the party.

Several Republicans pointed to Sen. Rob Portman's switch in support of gay marriage as a watershed moment for the party. And more than two dozen high-profile Republicans asked the Supreme Court to back gay rights. And even Foster Friess, Rick Santorum's top benefactor, has softened his stance on domestic partnership.

"Republicans' intolerance to marriage equality has been detrimental to winning," said Aaron McLear, a California Republican strategist. “Big donors understand that they don't want to invest in campaigns focused on a losing issue, and I think certainly the fiscal issues for Republicans are much more marketable."

Republican fundraiser Jim McCray agreed. "I think it will open up donors across the board, because it demonstrates Republicans are trying to recreate the big tent they were known for," McCray said.

Ah yes, the good old days of the Republican Big Tent. Um, when was that exactly? While there may indeed be surprising numbers of cash-giving Republicans eager to pony up on news of the resurrection of the GOP Big Tent, the more obvious implication is that a lot of rich gay Republicans finally got prickly about being depicted by their party as The Enemy.

Still, as I wrote last week, "I want to see [Senator Rob] do, or hear him say, one more thing that indicates he actually understands the issues he's stumbled into, and actutally believes what he seems to be saying."

I did offer a "for instance," though: He could sign on as a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which as it happnes is about to be reintroduced in the Senate. As I wrote earlier, Senator Rob's newfound insight into matters LGBT --

doesn't seem to extend to anything except the issue of same-sex marriage. So while the senator seems to want Will to have the right to marry the right man, should he come along, he doesn't seem at all concerned about Will being subject to discrimination in employment or housing, about the ease with which in most states he can be fired just for being gay, or denied the right to rent or buy a home. One could be cynical and say, why the hell should he worry about the son of a U.S. senator being subject to abuse in the workplace or in the housing market?
Senator?

Meanwhile, it appears that you and your wife raised a classy kid. I expect you're both feeling pretty proud.

#

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Original author: KenInNY
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