Cory Booker: “I hated gays”

Booker used to be homophobic. Now he's not. What his evolution teaches us about change -- and acceptance

Topics: Homophobia, Cory Booker, LGBT, tolerance, sexuality, equality, Editor's Picks, ,

Cory Booker: "I hated gays" Cory Booker (Credit: AP/Seth Wenig)

Everyone loves Cory Booker. He saves people from fires. He opens his home to Sandy evacuees. He tweets about Hot Pockets. And now he is coming clean about his own homophobia during college — and how he struggled to overcome it. This guy!

The Stanford Daily, along with BuzzFeed, unearthed a 1992 Op-Ed in which Booker wrote candidly about his early homophobia and subsequent “tolerance phase,” a period during which he renounced his bias, but still felt personally disgusted by gay people:

I stopped telling my gay jokes. Fags, flamers and dykes became homosexuals and people of differing sexual orientation and, of course, I had my gay friend. But I was disgusted by gays. The thought of two men kissing each other was about as appealing as a frontal lobotomy.

The young Booker doesn’t pull any punches, either: “Allow me to be more direct, escaping the euphemisms of my past — I hated gays,” he wrote. “The disgust and latent hostility I felt toward gays were subcategories of hatred, plain and simple.”

But all of that changed after talking with a gay counselor during his freshman year:

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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.

In these efforts I have found another community with which I feel akin and from which I draw strength. The gay people with whom I am close are some of the strongest, most passionate and caring people I know and their demands for justice are no less imperative than those of any other community.

Still he was far from perfect, adding, “Alas, occasionally I still find myself acting defensive if someone thinks I am gay or sometimes I remain silent when others slam and slander. These realizations hurt me deeply. I must continue to struggle for personal justice.”

Sure, Booker wasn’t yet the political player he is today, but owning up to being homophobic — and the brazen admission that his “tolerance” was just a cop-out — is still brave. And rare.

And when news of the Op-Ed broke, Booker took to Twitter (of course he did):

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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