The last few weeks have been full of many noteworthy moments in politics and current affairs in the US and abroad--namely, the ongoing international concern with the spread of the novel coronavirus and the Super Tuesday primaries. With all of these serious events, many missed a notable — albeit not surprising to many — event occurred when former Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock came out as gay on March 5th.
I want to start by commending Schock for taking the bold step toward being true to his sexuality to himself and the public — something that many may claim that it’s easy in the increasingly accepting social climate. As my October article on Schock foresaw, his coming out has sparked backlash and steadfast rejection from many in the LGBTQ community due to his anti-LGBTQ voting record as a Republican U.S. representative.
Despite this, the LGBTQ community should’t hold his past against him, and I hope that readers will be compelled to find compassion and forgiveness for Schock. He’s already very likely dealt with the weight of sexuality for so long and likely just wants to be accepted and loved like others who may know the pain of being in the closet.
There’s no question that Schock may have struggled greatly by being in the closet. It would likely be damaging, not being able to tell his family or his former constituents who looked up to him as a source of inspiration and pride about who he loves. Many may find it easy to attack Schock’s voting record from a decade ago, but I think we need to be reminded that the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was repealed only in 2010, and the Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage as a right in 2015.
These advancements were made not only by those in the LGBTQ community. Those who made the difficult deliberation on whether to support the community due to the political backlash may have to decide against it, even when they knew it was the right thing to do. Just a decade ago, this environment made it difficult for even the most passionate leaders to vocally support the LGBTQ community, let alone a gay Republican congressman from Illinois.
Schock has now vocalized his support for the LGBTQ community’s rights and regrets the decisions he made in Congress on these issues. Therefore, we shouldn’t continue to hold his past against him since everyone is entitled to a fresh start and should be loved by their own community, even if this love wasn’t previously reciprocated. Many have been maintaining a laser focus on Schock’s past voting record and delay in coming out, which is painful to see online and in conversations. This ideology harms not only Schock but also any person who struggles to accept themselves even in our growing acceptance of the LGBTQ in public life.
The rejection of Schock is already pointing to a perilous future for LGBTQ politics, as this and the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg have demonstrated. I don’t want the LGBTQ community to become fragmented and known for its cold treatment of those who are perceived as “other” to one’s own background and experiences, like what was seen in the community’s reception of Schock and Buttigeig. I want our LGBTQ community to be the example of warmth, tolerance, openness and, ultimately, compassion for the rest of society to follow — not one where conformity is required.
Moving forward from Schock’s coming out, I urge all to reflect on how forgiving those who may have caused harm in the past can be a positive thing for all. This kindness and civility is sorely lacking in our current civil discourse and is clearly poisoning the LGBTQ community. Unnecessarily and bitterly focusing on Schock’s past voting record or political affiliation is both unfair and ineffective toward members of the LGBTQ community and its continued acceptance in political leadership.
Chastising Schock’s past voting record is also harmful to those who have also held similar positions on LGBTQ rights in the past and now want to embrace the LGBTQ community. Let us not forget that four short years ago, many in the LGBTQ community were celebrating the candidacy of Hillary Clinton for president despite her career-long opposition to same-sex marriage until a few years before her second presidential run, according to PolitiFact. If the LGBTQ community can support Clinton, then it should accept Schock.
Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, we are all humans who aren’t perfect, yet we all strive for the goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I know our public discord is fraught with vitriol and compassion for those of opposite views is increasingly rare and frowned upon. I hope we can all find the compassion and forgiveness to embrace and love Schock for who he is and respect his past struggles and experiences.
Andrey Chun is an International Affairs and Economics double major. Contact Andrey at email@example.com