A casual conversation following a recent meeting triggered my most recent epiphany. (I think it was an epiphany, although it may have been heartburn…)
We were discussing the comparatively swift change of American popular opinion on the rights of LGBTQ citizens, and the extent to which “coming out” had accelerated that change. Political scientists have attributed much of the success of the gay rights movement to the profoundly political act of emerging from the closet. As the friend with whom I was talking put it, “Most people knew gay people–they just didn’t know that they knew gay people.”
When your family realized that Shirley wasn’t just elderly Aunt Gladys’ longtime roommate, but something more–when your doctor introduced you to his significant other–when cousin Johnny explained his lack of interest in finding a girlfriend…attitudes changed. Granted, a lot of people who exited the closet suffered rejection and worse, but their exit changed society dramatically and for the better.
As I was driving home from that meeting. I reflected on something that Joey Mayer told me about her experience going door-to-door in Indiana House District 24. She shared her surprise at the number of people she’d talked to who said something along the lines of “I thought I was one of the few Democrats in the county.” In a comment to that post, Paul Ogden wrote that he was baffled as to why people would say that.
The Democratic candidate in 2020 got nearly 41.9% of the vote in HD #24, which followed 41.6% in 2018. In 2014 and 2016, the Democrats did not even bother to field a candidate . You’ve seen a dramatic shift to Democratic Party in that district (and Hamilton County as a whole), which trend was accelerated by one Donald J. Trump.
Bottom line: in both cases, there are more of “us” (however defined) than we realize when people stay closeted.
When the first few people muster the courage to “come out,” it gives permission to their more timid compatriots to do the same. And that changes perceptions.
I’ve had emails from people in deep-Red rural areas of Indiana who share their discomfort with what they perceive to be their lonely political affiliation. Unlike residents of America’s obviously changing suburbia, I’m willing to concede that they live in areas where Democrats and pro-choice Republicans are relatively rare–but there’s really no way to tell, because many of the people who actually agree with those correspondents don’t vote. They don’t display yard signs. They don’t speak up. They stay in the closet, because the closet protects them from being criticized, attacked or cold-shouldered.
I can’t believe that “coming out” as a Democrat, or as a disaffected Republican, requires anything like the courage that coming out as gay required 25 years ago. I do believe that–if enough residents of Red areas came out against MAGA Republicans –it would change the political calculus and generate votes from people who have previously been too dispirited to cast ballots.
I am convinced that there are more people than we realize looking at the GOP’s assaults on democracy and fundamental rights while wringing their hands and asking “what can I do about it?” The usual answer (it has certainly been mine) is: vote. But after the epiphany triggered by my recent conversation, I’ll add: “you can come out.”
Here’s my advice to all of you who–despite tending to agree with the opinions expressed on this blog–have kept quiet out of fear of evoking hostile reactions: Put out an unexpected yard sign. Post support for a Democrat or two on Facebook. Disagree (politely, of course) when your neighbor makes a nasty crack about the “libtards.”
Be authentically who you are. Leave the closet. You won’t just be liberating yourself; you’ll be sending a very important message to more people than you think.
The following paragraph was originally written for LGBTQ folks, but I’ve changed the language so that it applies to political rather than sexual orientation:
Coming out is often an important psychological step for liberal and moderate people. Research has shown that feeling positively about one’s political orientation and integrating it into one’s life fosters greater well-being and mental health. This integration often involves disclosing one’s identity to others; it may also entail participating in Democratic politics. Being able to discuss one’s politics with others also increases the availability of social support, which is crucial to mental health and psychological well-being.
Come on, you timid Democrats and pro-choice, still-sane Republicans. You can do this! You’ll feel better and–even more significantly– you’ll be offering important encouragement to others!