Connecticut state Representative Jason Bartlett made history last week when he came out as a homo.
The 41-year old explained to our editor this week that while he didn’t necessarily keep his sexuality a secret, he wasn’t so sure how it would fit into his political aspirations: “I considered at the time, ‘Well, if you’re gay, that means you can’t do anything political, this might limit you in terms of career.’”
Read the very revealing conversation, after the jump…
[Image taken by Jeffrey Holmes at HRC’s Equality awards last weekend.]
Andrew Belonsky: I know you’ve been asked “Why now?” a bunch of times. I want to ask the same question in a different way: what was your motivation for staying in the closet for so long?
Jason Bartlett: [Laughs] Took you a while to get to that one! Um, my motivation to stay in the closet. I had conversations – not that I talk to myself all the time, but I definitely had conversations over the years. The first time I thought about whether or not I was gay was probably at college. I considered at the time, “Well, if you’re gay, that means you can’t do anything political, this might limit you in terms of career”.
JB: During those years I thought, “I could date a girl, I could try to live this lifestyle that society wants me to live and would make my parents happy.” And I attempted to do that, but then I would think about how I wasn’t being true to myself. The one thing I learned from my parents was to have the confidence to be who I am. After my first real relationship – where my partner was out and I was not – I had a conversation about it with my parents. I recognized [my closet] created turmoil in the relationship. There was no way I could have a healthy relationship with a partner and not have told my parents.
AB: How old were you then?
JB: I was about twenty-two or twenty-three. From there, you know, I just kept going back and forth. I never came out, because I just wasn’t comfortable sharing that with anybody outside of my family. I would develop relationships with my friends and, at a certain point, I would decide that to tell a person because I actually want them to be my friend. I would come out to individuals over the course of time. But I’ve always been political – I was political in college, I was political even in secondary school.
AB: What were you doing?
JB: I was president at my middle school, I was president at my high school, I was president of the state student council for the entire state of Connecticut. I was active in college with student government – I always knew that public service was something I wanted to do.
JB: Well, because I’m good at it.
AB: No, you didn’t know you were good at it until you started trying.
JB: When I see something that’s not working, I like to go in, fix it and make it better for people. I’ve always been an advocate. I’ve always fought other people’s battles. My mom battled when I was growing up. I don’t think she would consider herself at the forefront of women’s liberation, but she was trying to be a police officer, and she was being a fireman – she was breaking down barriers in her own way. I had her as an example. I am definitely an off-shoot of both my parents, who broke down barriers. I like to be an advocate and the government is the place where you advocate for other people.
AB: When you realized you were gay – your homosexuality became a barrier to your dreams…
JB: Oh, definitely. There are examples of people older than I who I knew were gay and were not out that I respected. I never knew anyone who came out – you would read about this one or that one – but I grew in the 70’s and 80’s and people were pretty much dragged out then. It didn’t seem to be a positive experience. As I got older, I started to realize that if I was going to stay in politics, I was going to have to come out. I prepared myself the first time I ran for the legislature that I might be outed. Because of my decision in my twenties, I went to gay bars from time to time, I had a partner for twelve years, so I didn’t live a double life, I just didn’t share it with people. It wasn’t secret.
AB: Do you think you could have won had you been out?
JB: I don’t think so. I ran three times. I looked at as “I’m African-American and I’m running in a white district”. I know that people didn’t want me to win because of my race, so that was my burden to bear. I had to try and try the third time to get people to get people to elect an African-American in an all white district that was predominantly Republican. For me, that was a huge consideration. That was a huge obstacle to overcome.
AB: While we’re speaking of race and politics – what do you make of Obama’s trajectory?
JB: I’m surprised and concerned about it all at the same time. I am the Clinton co-chair of the state, so I’m certainly not leaving my girl until the very end, but as far as Barack goes… I am amazed – I’m happy about it, but I proved to myself that Caucasians will vote for an African-American. I already knew that. I’m not necessarily surprised that white folks are voting for an African-American leader. He’s has the pedigree of a black leader that I know would sell in this country.
AB: And what is that?
JB: He’s speaking to the middle-class, he graduated from Harvard. He ran on hope, he ran on change, he ran on his biography. I think people are attracted to saying, “This person is transcendent”. That is the basis of his campaign: he is a transcendent leader – we’re going to make this huge leap going forward, we’re going to erase some of the race issues that our country has and we’re going to be less partisan. I personally believe that if he’s elected president, he’ll be successful because he has the numbers. Either of them will be successful because they have enough Congress people and enough Senators to get across their agenda. That’s going to make them successful.
AB: Of course.
JB: Do I believe that the country’s in a transcendent mode and people are really clamoring to erase our racial history and overlook all these other things? I still don’t think that. Because of the Iraq war, because of the economy, I think the issues are working for him. This has been an opportune time, because we have these huge issues. Either one of them will be in a good position because of the issues. I still worry, though, that in key states – Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania: big industrial states – states we need to win, I’m concerned that the Republicans are going to run a very different type of campaign than Hillary ran against Barack. I know what Republicans do and I’m concerned about it.