Newark Mayor and likely Senate candidate Cory Booker held virulently anti-gay prejudice before conversations with a gay friend changed his mind.
Booker, now an outspoken champion of LGBT equality, narrated his transformation in a 1992 op-ed for the Stanford Daily unearthed by Buzzfeed. In the piece, Booker admits that he “was disgusted by gays,” that the “disgust and latent hostility I felt toward gays were subcategories of hatred, plain and simple.” But the now-Mayor was won over by a gay student who worked at Stanford’s peer counseling group The Bridge, Daniel Bao. In Booker’s words:
I still remember our first real conversation about homosexuality. I had no intention of listening to him; I only sought to argue and debate. Daniel, however, quickly disarmed me with his personal testimony.
Oh, if only I could recount to you the entire conversation. He told me of people who religiously prayed to God to help them become straight. He told me of the years of denial and the pain of always feeling different.
And he told me of the violence – violence from strangers and family, horrible images of beatings, destruction of property and the daily verbal condemnations.
It was chilling to find that so much of the testimony he shared with me was almost identical to stories my grandparents told me about growing up Black. People found it revolting to share a meal with them and often felt it to be their duty to beat them so that they would learn proper living.
Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that the root of my hatred did not lie with gays but with myself. It was my problem. A problem I dealt with by ceasing to tolerate gays and instead seeking to embrace them.
Bao and Booker’s story reinforces one of the fundamental truths underpinning America’s move towards full equality for its LGBT citizens: that meeting and knowing openly gay individuals is the most powerful antidote to prejudice. As a CAP report in June of last year put it, “Reports suggest that as more gay individuals live openly and tell their friends and family that they are gay, support for marriage equality will continue to rise. Those who know someone who identifies as gay are 20 points likelier to back marriage equality.”