On Election Day 2018, Everton Blair made history: he defeated a veteran incumbent for a seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Education, making him the youngest and first black member of the governing body of the most populous school district in Georgia. On Oct. 11, 2019 – National Coming Out Day – Blair made history again when he publicly came out as a gay man.
The 27-year-old made his announcement with the help of Victory Fund, an organization working to elect LGBTQ candidates. The organization shared a letter he wrote to his younger self, reflecting on his identity and where he is now, to their email subscribers and got him in touch with NBC News to make his disclosure public.
With this announcement, Blair became the first out LGBTQ member of the board and the second gay black man to be hold public office in the state of Georgia, following in Atlanta City Councilmember Antonio Brown’s footsteps. Blair told the Georgia Voice he chose to make this momentous announcement on National Coming Out Day for a reason: to put the focus back on other LGBTQ people.
“I wanted to make sure that the day felt meaningful and not completely about me,” he said. “I figured this would be a day where a lot of other people would at least be reflecting on their coming out experience or people might be choosing to come out the same day or same time I did. It gave me the opportunity to just join in a much broader, national narrative and shine a little bit of light on the importance of it … [National Coming Out Day] is a symbol of hope and a symbol of forward aspiration.”
He said that because he’s more representative of Gwinnett County than the majority of the board – “[I’m] the only person that represents the now” – he’s seen the importance of diverse representation, especially after publicly coming out, firsthand.
“One of the experiences I’ve had while on the board is seeing the impact of how much representation matters,” he said. “There’s a lot of elements of who I am that the board has literally never seen but are very widely represented in our teaching population, in our student population, and even in our parent population … There’s a huge population of people that [my coming out] directly touches, and that’s who I did it for.” Blair further emphasized that this population of people are intersectional in a way that he represents, as well; an intersectionality that is severely lacking in our public offices.
“[Being black and gay] is like a double marginalization … I’m proud of that intersection and showing people that I’ve had struggles everywhere,” he told the Georgia Voice. “But being in a city as black and gay as Atlanta, it’s kind of shocking that I’m only the second black gay man ever to hold public office. That to me speaks to how our intersections don’t show up very prominently. It’s much easier for us to think, ‘If we want to get political power, we gotta put a straight man who is copacetic to the dominant culture in power and make him our spokesperson.’ That undermines the need to disrupt the dominant culture and elevate more diverse people in more diverse places.”
Now a couple of weeks after his coming out, Blair said that he never could’ve expected the positive reaction he’s received. He had braced himself for homophobic hate mail—“it wouldn’t have been the first time people didn’t accept me for who I am”—but was pleasantly surprised to receive nothing but positivity: letters of support and appreciation from students, staff, and parents and an uptick in student involvement, with students feeling empowered enough to come to school board meetings, take notes, and engage with Blair and other board members.
“I didn’t do this thinking that would be an outcome,” he said, obviously shocked but thankful, “and I’m just really grateful it’s been positively received and people are finding a glimmer of symbolic hope with my disclosure.”
While he’s grateful to make history and a difference in his students’ lives, Blair hopes for a day where LGBTQ people are so widely accepted, a holiday like National Coming Out Day will no longer need to exist.
“I know we won’t get to a society where coming out doesn’t matter until we disrupt the notion that heteronormativity is the dominant culture and until we get to the space where we recognize people are people – and we are,” Blair said. “Until we come to a place of acceptance with that truth, there will still be a need to come out because people will still find it easier not to. I just hope that people can understand that this is still a challenge for people, and that’s part of the reason this day is important. It shines a light on how people still feel compelled to live in the shadows or deceive folks about who they are. That should not be a way anybody lives in modern society.”