Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman came out in favor of marriage equality late Thursday night, to the shock of pretty much the entire political world. Basing his decision to change his position on marriage equality because of his son Will, Portman wrote a powerful article in the Columbus Dispatch that was published early Friday morning. When I first heard the news, I was proud of Senator Portman for making this bold announcement, and though I did not agree with everything in his column, I took Senator Portman’s announcement as a sign of movement within conservative politics on LGBT issues. Yet not everyone was as happy as I was with Portman’s announcement. From the Right, we saw claims that Will Portman would get AIDS, that the Senator turned his own son gay by sending him to Yale, and that though his son was gay the Senator should be thinking about the public policy issues, rather than the emotional connection that he had with his son. On the Left, we saw criticism that Portman was being “narcissistic” as he seemingly only cares about things when they directly affect him, that he didn’t go far enough in his support, and that he only did this for politically expedient reasons.
Though I cannot control what either side feels about Senator Portman’s announcement, it is important to note a few things. First, Senator Portman’s announcement was not about liberals or the LGBT community. It was about his son, and the personal journey that he has gone through with Will on this issue. He owes our community nothing and it is inappropriate for us to make this moment about our needs and our community. Yes, he may be a politician, and yes, his votes have impacted our community, but he came out in support of equality for his son, not because he wanted to win props with us.
Second, though Senator Portman has changed his position on this issue because he has a son who is gay, if does not follow that he has engaged in “narcissistic politics” in only supporting something when he is directly impacted by it. Though it may make members of our community feel better to claim such, they need to look in the mirror and take stock of their own life experiences before passing judgment. We ALL have different journeys in life on how we either come to terms with our sexuality or accept those in our life who are LGBT. Are our parents narcissistic when they take three years to change their views on homosexuality when their child’s sexual orientation is made known to them, or are they going through the exact same process that we did? Was I being narcissistic because I didn’t fully accept myself in high school, and instead did not deal with accepting my sexual orientation till I was in college? Are my grandparents narcissistic because before I came out they were against rights for LGBT people, yet have since found the ability to support – even with their strong conservative religious views – ENDA and civil unions? Was President Obama being narcissistic as he “evolved” on this issue, based upon his experience with LGBT people? People who claim that Senator Portman is narcissistic for changing his position based upon his personal experience not only demean those people who HAVE changed their position because of our coming out – people that we consider allies for our community – but they also demean each and every LGBT person who has worked through the coming out process.
Our experiences shape our perceptions and views on life and reality. That is not narcissism; that is one of the bedrocks of human existence. So instead of criticizing Senator Portman for being narcissistic or having a lack of empathy, the LGBT community should welcome him into the fold and show others who are on the fence that we are truly accepting of all.