GOP Senator's Son Writes About Coming Out

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 25 2013 11:15 AM

GOP Senator's Son Writes About Coming Out to His Parents

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Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) speaks with reporters outside House Speaker John Boehner's office on Capitol Hill in December.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A week and a half after Sen. Rob Portman surprised much of Washington with his announcement that he now backs gay marriage, the Republican senator's son, Will, gets his chance to tell his own story of coming out to his parents in a first-person essay in the Yale Daily News:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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.

Will, currently a junior at Yale, writes that during the process of coming out to his family and friends in 2011, he and his father had a "tacit understanding that he was my dad first and my senator a distant second." It wasn't until more recently that the two began talking about the policy issues surrounding gay marriage:

The following summer, 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.
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.
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