H. Alexander Robinson

High Ranking Black Politician Comes Out As Gay

Filed By H. Alexander Robinson | February 19, 2008 7:35 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Media
Tags: black LGBT, Connecticut, Jason Bartlett, National Black Justice Coalition, NBJC

[Editor's Note:] The following is an interview granted today by State Representative bartlett2.jpgJason Bartlett to the National Black Justice Coalition - the first LGBT organization to interview Rep. Bartlett on his historic coming out.

History was made earlier today as State Representative Jason Bartlett (2nd District Connecticut) publicly came out as gay. His announcement makes him the highest ranking African American and openly gay politician in the United States. The National Black Justice Coalition proudly congratulates Rep. Bartlett for both his courage and for his political accomplishments.

About Jason Bartlett

JasonBartlett140.jpgA product of the public school system of Redding, CT, Bartlett held a strong childhood interest in politics. But it would be many years later on his 3rd political try that he would secure his current seat as State Representative (2nd District) representing the cities of Bethel, Danbury, and Redding.

In addition, for the past 13 years he has owned and operated his own mortgage company while raising two young sons, now adult men.Bartlett.JPG

Recently Bartlett co-chaired the Hillary Clinton Connecticut Steering Committee because "I've been following Senator Hillary Clinton for most of her career. I've always supported her and her issues. I like the fact that she's a fighter and I like the fact that she has the experience."

15 Questions with Jason Bartlett

NBJC: What was childhood like? Were you happy?

Jason Bartlett: I was raised in a middle class family in Redding, CT and now represent the area I grew up in at the state legislature. I was adopted at two years old and my parents are interracial. They both came from more urban settings and decided that they wanted to provide me with a safe, nurturing and loving environment where I would have the opportunity to get a good education; so they chose a more rural setting to raise me and my brother. I am happy and glad to have grown up there. It has allowed me to have the confidence and ability to be self employed, raise a family of my own and get elected to the legislature!

NBJC: How many siblings?

JB: I have one younger brother. But growing up my parents were very generous and we always took in my cousins and other family members on both sides of the family.

NBJC: At what age did you begin to become aware of your sexuality?

JB: I think that we all evolve into awareness over time. And, I would like to think that I am still learning and will continue to learn about my sexuality well into my ripe old age.

NBJC: Did you date or marry women?

JB: I dated women but never married anyone. I always knew that it would be wrong to live a "down low" lifestyle. So, although I knew I would get into politics, I had to be true to myself and denying a major piece of my own identity was not in the cards. No matter how that limited my ability to be involved in politics.

NBJC: When did you finally accept yourself?

JB: I was taught by my mom to love myself. I grew up with the knowledge that I was different because of my race. I remember the kids in my school putting pencils in my afro and from time to time I got into a few skirmishes at recess with kids that used racial epithets. I was always strong and confident in the face of being different.

NBJC: How did you come out to your family?

JB: I remember coming home one day and asking both my parents to sit down and talk with me. I told them I was gay. Then I changed it to bisexual. Then I changed it back to gay. It was a difficult talk because I didn't want to disappoint them. They were both very supportive. When I told my dad it was going to be in the paper the other day, he said, "I love you. I've never cared what side of the fence you played on." I really appreciated that! LOL

NBJC: What do you currently identify as gay, bisexual or other?

JB: I am gay. LOL

NBJC: Which do you identify as more heavily as; African American or gay, or both equally?

JB: I do not give weigh more heavily to one aspect of my being than another. We are all complex composites of many different things. I have been politically more active on issues that affect the African American community and volunteered my time to support a number of black candidates for office.

Going forward, I will give voice to issues that affect either constituency. What folks have to realize is that as an African American I represent a district that is 96% white.

No one ever questions my advocacy for my district because of my race. I figure that at least 10% of my district is gay so my percentages are getting better. But in the end, being both gay and black makes me passionate and resolute on the issues I care about, issues like universal healthcare, accountability in education spending and addressing Connecticut's educational achievement gap, preserving open space and protecting our environment. Of course, I care about setting fiscal and tax policies that help the middle class taxpayer.

NBJC: Why publicly come out as gay now?

JB: When people ask, why now? My response is, why not now? I am 41 years old, I have raised two children as a single parent, I've owned my own mortgage business for the last 13 years and I have been a community activist my entire life in the Greater Danbury community. "Coming out" is just having a conversation and revealing a part of myself that I had kept private.

NBJC: Who currently knows?

JB: My family and friends have known for some time. Recently, I have come out to my political friends and associates pretty much informally. At cocktail parties and social events I would just slip in the fact that I am gay. Everyone has been supportive.

NBJC: What drew you into politics? You secured your current seat on the third try. What kept your perseverance?

JB: I remember being in the 5th grade and wanting to be the treasurer of the school's student council. I missed the deadline and determined that in the future I would keep my eye on the prize. Since then I became President of my middle school student council, president of my high school and president of Connecticut's State Student Council. I volunteered in New Hampshire as a college senior and have since worked as a campaign manager for several municipal and legislative candidates.

In 2002, I ran for State Representative for a Republican seat and lost by 345 votes. I tried again in 2004 and lost by 86 votes. Finally, three times was the charm and I won my district by 600 votes. I've stayed involved because I believe I can make a difference for my constituents and make positive changes in government.

NBJC: Explain your passion for Universal Health Care.

JB: I believe that health care should be a right. I am hoping that with the election of a new President we can finally achieve universal health care. Until such time, I will advocate for reforms insuring all kids and adults in Connecticut are covered by insurance and are receiving quality care that is affordable.

NBJC: What would you say you have learned that would be helpful to same-gender -loving people who are considering a run for office?

JB: I would advise people to embrace themselves, if not publicly certainly privately. You have to be comfortable with yourself in order to be scrutinized by the public and the media. You also have to know the values and beliefs you share with a majority of voters in your district. It is the common values and beliefs that you share that will get you elected.

NBJC: You have two sons. Are we correct in our assumption that you are out to them? How old are they?

JB: I have two sons that are now 21 and 19 years old. Both are attending community college in Connecticut. The boys came to live with me when they were 9 and 11 respectively. Both of their biological parents who were my aunt and uncle had passed away. So I took them into my home and raised them as my own. We have open communication and they are aware of my sexual orientation.

NBJC: So what do you do for fun?

JB: I enjoy most sports as a fan or participant, dining with friends, good conversation, traveling, reading and of course being politically active.

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The more visibility our community has the better. Congrats, Jason!

Very interesting. He's not the only gay rep from that part of the state. A friend of mine has also represented that area for years. He has chosen a different route regarding being "out" or "in". He simply doesn't make it an issue, but his voting record is above reproach and anyone who wants to know about his sexuality certainly would not have to dig to find out the truth. I wonder if this "coming out" will force a comparison and push that other fine gentleman into a corner in which he will have to declare himself. I'm conflicted about how I feel about this because he has been, in his own way, an excellent representative and he deserve the right to comport himself as he sees fit.

Congratulations, Rep. Bartlett!

I must admit, I got rather spoiled living in NYC, where out people of color are much more visible than in other places I've worked and lived... so I always think it's wonderful to see that visibility go up in other places too.

If you haven't yet, I hope you'll talk sometime with former NYC Councilmember Phil Reed... I believe he was one of the first out Black elected officials in the country (and certainly was the first one I ever met). Hearing him speak way back when at a GMHC activist training was one of the things that first got me hooked into advocacy work. I'm sure he'd have some helpful pointers for you. :) And he's now got some time to talk, seeing as he got term-limited in 2005.

Way to go Jason! I'm proud of you!