In the quiet of an early-morning flight on Friday, Rashad Taylor had just his thoughts to accompany him as he returned to Atlanta to face reporters and television cameras. He was set to talk publicly about a struggle he’d been facing personally for more than a decade: He is gay.
Taylor, an Atlanta Democrat first elected to the General Assembly in 2008, was taking a 6 a.m. flight from Baltimore to Atlanta to emerge as the state legislature’s first openly gay man. Ending his internal struggle over his sexual orientation in such a public manner wasn’t his choice – the ex boyfriend of his current partner forced the move after distributing an email accusing Taylor of being gay and using the perks of his office to trade for sex.
“The only thing that can kill gossip is the truth,” Taylor told Project Q Atlanta on Friday afternoon in his first interview since the morning press conference. “I just wanted to make this declaration and move forward.”
The press conference on Friday—where Taylor made a simple declaration, “I am a gay man,” as he was flanked by legislative colleagues, LGBT activists and family – ended a whirlwind 24 hours of activity that included more phone calls and intimate conversations than it did sleep.
“My pastor says I will probably have the best sleep I’ve had in the last 12 years. I have not slept in the last 24 hours. It is freeing. I do feel like I’m at peace with who I am and I don’t have to try and live a double life,” Taylor says.
The state lawmaker and political consultant – he was in Baltimore working on a mayoral campaign when the outing email surfaced earlier in the week – talked with his mother and pastor first. The conversation with his mom, who was at his side during Friday’s press conference, went as well as anyone coming out could hope for.
“My mom asked why didn’t I tell us sooner and what made me think they wouldn’t love and support me. My mom asked why I hadn’t told her and I said I didn’t want to disappoint her. She said I could never disappoint her,” Taylor recounted.
“The conversation I had with my mom and my pastor were the two best conversations I had in the last 24 hours. And they were the two people I was most afraid to have the conversation with,” he adds.
Taylor said the allegations that he traded sex for favors were “a bunch of lies” and an attempt to “intimidate and embarrass me.” A progressive lawmaker, Taylor has been supportive of LGBT issues, marched in the Atlanta Pride parade, received endorsements from gay political groups, and attended LGBT events including Georgia Equality’s Evening for Equality and the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Atlanta.
But when it came to discussing his sexual orientation, Taylor denied he was gay. Had it not been for the email, Taylor said during the press conference and again in the interview with Project Q that he wouldn’t have come out.
“I would not have had this press conference today, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t have the comfort level in six months from now,” he says. “I just turned 30 years old. I’m not a young man anymore, but certainly you can argue that you can give me at least until 30 to figure out who I am and get comfortable with revealing who I am to the people I love and trust.”
By coming out, Taylor becomes the third openly gay state lawmaker in Georgia, joining state Reps. Karla Drenner and Simone Bell. He’s the first openly gay man in the General Assembly and just the sixth openly gay African-American state lawmaker in the U.S., according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
“I’ve had to have this journey out of this haste and I had to have it on a public stage rather than in private. I understand that I got into public service knowing that part of the sacrifice is a sacrifice of privacy. I know that and understand that,” Taylor says.
“The support I have received from my friends and family has been overwhelming, but very heartwarming. I hope at the end of the day that someone will look at this and find courage, will find some comfort in them coming out to their family and friends. It was not as hard as I thought it would be,” he adds.
Drenner and Bell ran for office as out lesbians and have been re-elected by voters. Taylor says he’s prepared to face his District 55 constituents as openly gay and stand for re-election. Friday’s pronouncement won’t change his political positions or the way he approaches his legislative work.
“I am the same Rashad that was on the ballot in 2008 and 2010. My positions will not change. I will be in the Pride parade and attend the HRC dinner. I will still be active in LGBT issues and progressive issues and that will not change with this revelation,” Taylor says.
As for how voters in his district, which includes a portion of the City of Atlanta, might react, Taylor says the initial support he’s received from them leaves him hopeful.
“I don’t suspect and hope that this won’t affect how my constituents view my public service. Who I decided to love should not really impact on how I perform as a legislator. Over the last three years, I have done fairly good job of representing my constituency at the State Capitol and I will continue to do that and serve them in the legislature. I don’t think this will negatively impact my ability to be a legislator and any re-election plans in the future,” Taylor says.
Before the press conference, Taylor leaned on the same trusted politicos and advisors he’s relied on in the past – LGBT elected officials including Drenner and former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, as well as longtime gay activists including Larry Pellegrini and Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director. He also met Friday with Reed, who was not at the press conference though his gay spokesperson, Reese McCranie, did attend.
“I went by today as a friend to get [Reed’s] advice, to let him know about the decision. He was extremely supportive and I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Taylor says.
What does Taylor do after coming out in such a public way? First, he’s looking forward to a peaceful night of sleep. Then it’s a return to Baltimore for his political consulting and continuing to seek the “counsel of people who have been through this before me.”
“People are reaching out to give support. The outpouring of support has made this easier for me. There are a lot of people at the end of this journey that don’t receive this love and support. This has made it much easier for me,” Taylor says.
Top photo courtesy Atlanta Journal-Constitution; second photo is Taylor during Atlanta Pride parade in 2010