To Rob Portman

Dear Mr. Portman,

Hi. My name is Jane. I don’t think we’ve ever met, but I’m sure we’ve crossed paths. I grew up in Cincinnati – Madisonville, specifically (it’s next to Mariemont). I went to Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge and Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash. My friend ran a camp in Hyde Park some of your kids attended in the early 2000s (The Outlook Games). 

I’m not much for writing my representatives. Or for writing letters in general. But this morning, I saw your editorial in the Columbus Dispatch, and your interview in the Cincinnati Enquirer, about your change of heart about marriage equality for gay people. And I felt like I had to say something. 

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, as I said. And from a very, very early age, I knew that I was gay. I don’t know how I knew, any more than how I know my parents love me or that the Michigan Wolverines are my heart and soul. I just did, from the first moment I knew what gay meant. But I also knew that no one could ever know that I was gay.  I asked my mom once how she would feel if I were gay, and she said that she’d be very disappointed because my life would be much harder. 

At the time, Issue 3 had just passed, prohibiting the city from extending protections to the LGBT community. You had just been elected to represent my congressional district – and my parents (life-long Democrats) were not particularly thrilled. As your career in Congress progressed, so did my anxiety about being gay. I was in Catholic schools, desperate for friends but hiding a secret that I thought could ruin me. I never told anyone I wasn’t straight until my freshman year of high school, and even then I denied ever saying it. The pain and anxiety of being something so many people despised was incredibly, incredible difficult to shoulder. I felt suicidal. I felt alone. I felt like my life had an expiration date, because I could never find someone to share my life with, I would never have a marriage like my parents, I would never be free. 

I graduated from high school in 2005, and went to the University of Michigan (where you went to law school.) The closest I ever came to truly being myself was in Ann Arbor (which, as you must know, is America’s perfect town.) But I was still afraid to come out. I told my parents I wasn’t straight (too afraid to actually say the word ‘gay’) in a rambling phone conversation while pacing around my house in Kerrytown. And they, like you, were surprised, but accepting of finding out they had an LGBT kid. 

I live in DC now. I’m 25. I came out as gay a little over a year ago. I’m not afraid to be out here – DC’s a pretty liberal town, as I’m sure you’ve discovered. But I never, ever thought that my hometown, the place where I played lacrosse and went on field trips to Serpent Mound and took about three years too long to figure out how to get from 71 to Ronald Reagan, could be a place where a Republican senator who once had students walk out on his commencement speech for his stance on LGBT issues would tell several major Ohio news outlets that his son was gay and that he had shifted his stance on marriage equality.

Do I wish you’d come to this realization earlier? Yes. Do I wish it hadn’t occurred because of your own personal experience, but rather a greater sense of the importance of equality for all? Definitely. But I understand. We all have ideas and beliefs that we support until we know someone personally who tells us something different. For you, it was your son, Will, telling you that he was gay. For me, it was having people who weren’t afraid to be honest with me and tell me that being out would in no way change how the people who loved me felt about me.  

I’m sure you’re hearing a lot about what you wrote in the Columbus Dispatch this morning. Some of it good, and some of it bad. But what I wanted to tell you is thank you. Thank you for putting your role as a father above your role as a politician or a member of a political party or a conservative. Thank you for accepting your son. Thank you for sharing your change in position with the world, when you know as well as anyone what that could mean for your career. 

If you ran for office in my area, I probably wouldn’t vote for you. Our stances differ on a lot of other issues, and that’s okay. But if you ran for office in my area, I’d tell my friends and colleagues that despite my differences with your views, I respect you, and hope that you continue to contribute to the future of the Republican party. And I’d say that its people like you who make me more and more proud to be a native Ohioan. 

I asked my mom recently if she was still concerned about the challenges I’d face as a gay person. She said no, that things had changed so much for gays and lesbians in America since I asked her the first time. She now believes that I can be just as happy and productive  as a gay woman as my married heterosexual sister. And she loves me, regardless. 

You may not see yourself as part of this transformation, but you are. By choosing to stand up for your son, you stood up for all LGBT Ohioans who want to share the rest of their lives with the person they love waking up next to every morning,  and for LGBT people across America. 

We have a long way to go. Beyond the upcoming SCOTUS cases, there are many challenges on the path to full equality for LGBT people – from ENDA to ending discrimination against trans people to focusing attention on the needs of LGBT youth. But I feel this morning like we’re closer than ever before to achieving our goals and creating a “more-perfect union”, and it’s because of you. So, again, thank you. 


Good luck to you and your family, and congratulations to your son, Will, for his bravery and honesty. 


Jane Coaston