ICT Closets

Closets are great places to hang clothes. Closets are not, however, anywhere anyone should live any part of their life.

Remember that U.S. Senator who got busted in the boys room for tapping his foot, looking for a sexual tryst? That was Utah’s Larry Craig, a Republican. Recall that governor who got caught up in a sex scandal with a former aide and was forced to admit to the world, with his wife by his side, that he was “a gay American”? That was New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey, a Democrat. This is what happens when you are beholden to the closet. Closets don’t have geographic or political barriers. Living in them does cause palpable damage, though. It’s time we let that famous Kansas wind blow open the closet doors of ICT.

Sadly, there are many to be opened. While I do not know of any closeted folks in this state working actively against the gay community, I do know plenty of people in positions of power whose silence does nothing to move us forward.  They are elected office holders, government officials, business leaders, attorneys, police officers, high-profile community organizers, and architects of many good things that have happened in this city. They’ve built a comfortable world for themselves by denying their own truth to others.  A select few know their identities. However, the fifteen-year-old girl struggling to come to terms with the fact that she’s gay has no role model to look to. There’s no visible assurance that she can be both honest and successful, at least not in Wichita. Many will say that a person’s sexual orientation is nobody else’s business. When we live in a country where every person has the same legal rights and social respect, I’ll agree with that statement. At the moment, we do not.

Long ago, I decided it was easier for me to be honest about who I am rather than live a lie. Naively, I assumed others—especially those from my generation—would soon follow suit. The social consequences seem insurmountable for many, though. When I worked in politics, I had college interns confess to me their fears about being out. They worried that would cost them a coveted political career. I’ve had waiters overtly flirt with me by night, only to run into them the next day and be blinded by the glimmer of their wedding ring. I’ve watched rainbow sparkles practically pour out of someone’s mouth while he playfully flirts with my male colleague, and then noticed pictures of his adoring wife and daughters lining the walls behind us. Since I started writing this column, a number of people have confessed their secret to me. Those secrets are safe; I don’t believe in outing folks. The shackles of your own shame are far more powerful than any secret I or anyone else could ever hold.

Being openly gay in Wichita really isn’t that bad, though. I’ve had a successful career, plenty of friends, and somehow find myself rubbing elbows with decision makers on a regular basis. I do this all being 100% me. If I can do it, anyone can.

No one should ever have to compartmentalize themselves. The holistic life is the only one worth living. If you’re gay, you owe it to yourself and your community to be honest. Keep your clothes in the closet, where they belong. Live your life out in the open, where you belong.


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