This week marks the one year anniversary of former Senator Roy Ashburn's DUI arrest and subsequent coming out as a gay man.
As you may recall, Republican Senator Roy Ashburn from Bakersfield, California, was arrested for drunk driving in Sacramento after leaving Faces, a gay bar near the California capitol. A few days later, Senator Ashburn publicly revealed that he was gay and had been living in the closet for decades.
Unlike Ted Haggard or Senator Larry Craig, Senator Ashburn was done with hiding and he was ready to free himself from the lies and the pain of the closet. What followed was outrage from many in the LGBT community over Senator Ashburn's anti-gay voting record, including the fact that twice he voted against the marriage equality bill. In fact, the year previous, Senator Ashburn had received the "Pink Brick Award" from the San Francisco LGBT Pride Association.
In the past I might have felt that same outrage. I remember when Ted Haggard was outed in 2006, I was talking on the phone with Mel White, the founder of Soul Force. I remember saying, "Isn't that great? What a hypocritical jerk."
I was surprised by Mel's response. He said something to the effect of "We need to pray for Brother Ted. He's hurting right now. We should reach out to him, forgive him, not punish him." Needless to say, at that point in my personal and spiritual development those were radical words. Since then, however, I've experiences people from the "other side" having changes of heart and mind and knowing that they need love and support as they release their old communities and take bold steps towards what I would call "the real light" - the light of acceptance, self-love, and authenticity.
This is why when Senator Roy Ashburn was arrested, I felt called to reach out to him. I did not know him personally, did not come from his district, had not personally lobbied, so maybe without layers of feeling personally hurt and betrayed, it was easier for me to reach out and see him as I would see any LGBT person who had lived their life in the closet, torn between the pain of lying and hiding and being their true selves.
Like most LGBT people, I have known that pain. I came out as a teenager in a small town in Oregon and experienced rejection, hate speech, and bullying. Coming out and being your true self is never easy, but I know that Senator Ashburn would agree with me now that the peace it brings is worth it and that until you are out and living your truth you can never fully love and accept yourself.