When I announced my candidacy for mayor of Chicago earlier this year, my wife and daughter stood by my side. And since that day, my family and I have been joined by an ever-growing group of supporters at rallies, community events, and even in this year’s Chicago Pride Parade. Running for mayor of the third largest city in the nation as an out and married lesbian was unthinkable to me growing up, and impossible until fairly recently.
Community isn’t something I ever take for granted. That’s what I’m reflecting on today, National Coming Out Day.
I grew up in a small town in a low-income family and was the only black kid in my elementary school. I felt like an outsider, and since I didn’t know of LGBT people—much less LGBT black women—living happy, healthy, and successful lives, I didn’t believe I could ever marry or have a child.
I worried about what the future would bring, and in my early twenties, I agonized over the idea of coming out to my parents, both dedicated, conservative church-goers whose families had moved to our small town from the South seeking a better life. For a long time, I believed I would lose my family if I came out, and I tried to prepare myself for a life of loss and loneliness. It wasn’t something I knew how to prepare for—but luckily, it never happened.
When I came out, it wasn’t a big formal conversation like in the movies. I just started living as my true and authentic self and opened up my life to my parents—sharing who I was, and bringing a girlfriend when I came home for a visit. To my great surprise, my parents accepted me for who I was and have supported me since.
Having a loving family has been a deep comfort and source of strength for me but, of course, it has not prevented discrimination in other parts of my life. Throughout college and law school, as well as in my career as a lawyer and police reform advocate, I’ve faced various toxic combinations of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Throughout these tough times, I’ve found strength in Chicago’s powerful, proud LGBT community.
I feel so lucky to have accepting parents, a loving wife and daughter, a strong community of friends, and an inclusive city—but I want to build a world where luck isn’t the primary part of the equation. All across the country, there are LGBT youth who risk losing their families when they come out, who must move across the country to find somewhere they can be themselves, and who must hide parts of who they are as they go to work each day.
I hope my campaign can inspire people who grew up like I did, and that I can serve as an example of someone who dares to dream and stands up in times of uncertainty. I hope Chicagoans can join together in this campaign and beyond to build a city where everyone can live as their true and authentic self.
I want to make sure no one has to decide between family and identity or worry about living a life of loneliness just because of who they are. I want equity and inclusion to be our north stars, in Chicago and far beyond. This is the world I’m fighting for as I run for mayor.