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Openly gay politicians still scarce after McGreevey

Ten years ago this week, New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey announced he was a gay American, and a few months later he stepped down from office. Since then, there hasn’t been one openly gay governor elected in any state, and very few gay state lawmakers currently hold office around the country.

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Jim McGreevey
Former NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey (Getty Images)

Still, political observers say things are significantly different than they were a decade ago. Montclair State University political science professor Dr. Brigid Harrison said there are six openly gay or bisexual representatives in the House of Representatives right now, and one in the U.S. Senate.

She said gay politicians now have a better chance to get elected, because “there has been an enormous shift in public perception about the kind of rights that gay Americans should be entitled to. In the past decade, we’ve seen enormous efforts and a great deal of success in terms of the public perception of homosexuality.”

Harrison also said that McGreevey coming out of the closet didn’t necessarily make it easier for gays to run successfully in politics, but he was part of a movement “that led people to recognize there were people in everyday lives that were gay, that were in the closet and that they in fact had voted for.”

For many, the impact of McGreevey’s disclosure masks the real reason he resigned from office.

“(It was not) Jim McGreevey being gay that was problematic in the state of New Jersey,” Harrison said. “Rather, he had appointed a person that he was in a relationship with to a position that was very important, and for which he was not qualified.”

So, could an openly gay man or woman make a successful run for governor in New Jersey?

Harrison thinks the answer is yes, but probably not in the next couple of years because there are no high-profile gay politicians lining up for a gubernatorial run right now.

“That isn’t to say someone couldn’t walk in and suddenly have enormous name recognition, or choose to out him or herself, but becoming governor isn’t something that happens overnight,” Harrison said. “Right now in New Jersey, we don’t see anyone kind of moving up through the ranks who is gay.”

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