California State Sen. Roy Ashburn isn’t really someone to point to as a role model when it comes to proud gay men. He was deeply closeted most of his life, and spent his time as a senator diligently voting against anything even remotely gay positive, including his vote last November against establishing an annual Harvey Milk Day in honor of the murdered gay rights activist. And in 2005, he not only voted against same-sex marriage in California, he organized an anti-gay-marriage rally.
But then this past March 10, Ashburn’s house of cards came tumbling down: He was stopped as he left a well-known gay bar, with a man in the car with him, and arrested for DWI.
So Ashburn owned up and came out. He admitted, he is gay. But he still defended his anti-gay votes, saying that he was following the wishes of the constituents in his district.
Now, though, the senator — in his final term — has taken yet another step forward: He has apologized for his anti-gay votes in a blog post on GayPolitics.com. He said:
“I am sincerely sorry for the votes I cast and the actions I took that harmed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Just as important to me, I am sorry for not stepping forward and speaking up as an elected official on behalf of equal treatment for all people.”
And why, you may ask, did he vote against the best interests of himself and his community for so long? He has an answer:
“I chose to conceal who I truly am and to then actually vote against the best interests of people like me. All this was done because I was afraid — terrified, really — that somehow I would be revealed as gay.”
He was afraid. He was afraid because he lived with a secret. He lived, as a transgender friend of mine described it, “stealth.” What better example could anyone ask for of the dangers of living in the closet?
He may have not come out all that willingly, but now that he is out, Roy Ashburn is changing his tune — and his politics. And he is calling on his party — the Republican Party — to change its politics, too:
“We stand for equality as well as opportunity. We stand for individuals living their lives without fear or limits imposed by a powerful government. We stand for a government of limited powers over citizens, including not being involved in the private lives of people. These tenets of Republican ideology call for bold action by our party when confronted with the real-life issues of discrimination against LGBT people.
“I am no longer willing, nor able to remain silent in the face of unequal and hurtful treatment of my community. It may have taken me a strange, incoherent and long path to get here, but this is where I find myself as a gay Republican senator. It’s time for Republicans to find our way and fight for equal treatment for all people, especially the freedom to be unique and have our rights acknowledged and protected.”
OK, so while his life up until this year isn’t role-model material, it looks like Ashburn is moving in that direction. I just wish it wasn’t his last term in the California Senate. And I hope his GOP colleagues will listen to him.