On Election Day 2018, Everton Blair defeated a veteran incumbent for a seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Education — the governing body of the most populous school district in Georgia.
A wave of demographic change has transformed the county's politics in recent years. After voting for the Republicans John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, the county backed the Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. That year, Gwinnett County also sent Sam Park to the Georgia state House as its first out gay member.
On Coming Out Day 2019, 27-year-old Everton Blair has a message for the world: He's gay. With this announcement, Blair is the second out black gay man to hold public office in the state of Georgia.
"I didn't want to make this day that I chose to come out singularly about me," Blair told NBC, adding that he hopes that Coming Out Day can be a "call for people to reflect."
Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston and president/CEO of the Victory Fund, said that “Everton’s coming out will have an impact far beyond the borders of Gwinnett County."
"With just 15 openly LGBTQ elected officials in all of Georgia and just two openly LGBTQ Black men, Everton will be a unique and influential voice moving forward, and a relentless advocate for vulnerable students," Parker continued in a statement. "We expect Everton’s decision will influence more LGBTQ people to come out in office and run for office — embodying the spirit of National Coming Out Day.”
Blair attended schools in Gwinnett County before studying at Harvard and Stanford. He served in the Obama administration as policy and advocacy fellow at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
"I recognized it's just really important for me to model what being an open and out leader looked like, particularly for young students who may be struggling to find themselves or navigate life," Blair said. "National reporting and national research shows and underscores the need for LGBTQ youth to really receive affirming messages." He noted that knowing just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of LGBTQ youth suicide.
"I've had a lot of moments where reflecting on my own experience growing up and in schools, there were either stated or unstated heteronormative and sometimes toxically masculine messages about how we can and cannot be," Blair said. "For kids who similarly have that experience — particularly LGBT youth of color who face it at an extreme intersection, where even in some LGBTQ spaces they don't feel included, even in some black spaces they may not feel included — there's a unique intersection there that I really know, that I have lived and experienced directly, and I want people to know that it gets better — and that it continues to be challenging."
Another gay Georgia man was in the center of the news this week: Gerald Bostock, who was fired from his job for being gay because Georgia lacks LGBTQ workplace nondiscrimination laws. But Blair said he has "a bit of unstated job security" as an elected official.
“There just has always been immeasurable acceptance and inclusion on those campuses and in those settings, and the contrast of that reality against the backdrop of what is absent in terms of provisions for protection and inclusion in Georgia, have always been something that I have known I have to speak out where I saw it — not just as an ally, but as a member of the LGBT community," he said.
Coming out Friday is in, in part, a rejection of advice Blair received from some well-wishers who believe that coming out causes more problems than it solves.
"Even people who support you and love you will claim that you should continue to live a discreet life or a life of secrecy for fear of other people's disapproval or for fear of having to withstand stigma that's placed on you," Blair told NBC News. "That's letting homophobia win."
"For me it was standing up in a firm rejection of that stigma and of that frame of living because its just far too important — we don't make progress in building a more inclusive society by the very people who could be on the front lines advocating for issues that affect them, minimizing themselves to make other people more comfortable," Blair said.