Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jim Toevs co-founded the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In 1992, Jim was the Democratic nominee for Congress against then-closeted Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe. He resides in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.
In 1992 in Tucson, Arizona, I ran for Congress as an openly gay Democrat against the then-closeted Republican congressman, Jim Kolbe. I did not win the election, but I did receive 77,000 votes; which at the time was the record number of votes ever received by a non-incumbent, openly gay, congressional candidate. My sexual orientation never became a major factor in the campaign, because Kolbe wanted to avoid the issue like the plague.
In 1996, Congressman Kolbe voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which prompted a decision by The Advocate to "out" Kolbe because of his hypocrisy. Kolbe was tipped off before the Advocate issue was published, and jumped the gun by issuing his own press release acknowledging that he is gay.
Almost immediately, Kolbe began experiencing the blessings of coming out of the closet in his personal life. No longer dealing with the stress of living a lie, Kolbe's health improved and his drinking diminished to acceptable social levels. His voting record also improved once he started being honest with himself and everyone else.
On several occasions in subsequent years, I telephoned or wrote his office to congratulate him on his willingness to speak out on issues of LGBT equality, and we established a friendly, speaking acquaintanceship. One night at IBT's, a local gay bar, Kolbe and I had the opportunity to speak personally. To my surprise, as we were saying goodbye, he kissed me and gave me a big hug. I believe that this was his way of thanking me for the role I played in helping him to accept - and embrace - his sexuality.
About eight years ago, Jim Kolbe met a Panamanian citizen, Hector Alfonso, and they fell in love. At some point in their relationship, Hector had to leave the USA for a year because his visa had expired. Hector is now back in the USA legally, but not on a permanent basis. Kolbe's personal experience with LGBT discriminatory immigration policy, led him to publicly testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Kolbe spoke in favor of an amendment to the immigration bill - one that would add protections for married LGBT spouses equal to that afforded heterosexual couples. Further, Kolbe announced that he and his fiance will be married soon in Washington, DC.
Jim Kolbe is an example of someone who has evolved from being a closeted politician to an advocate for himself, our community, and full legal LGBT equality in our lifetimes.
There are legions of other closeted brothers and sisters hiding out there in the shadows. We need to let them know by our words and our actions that we welcome them into our community with open hearts and open arms. It worked with Jim Kolbe.