Local Wisconsin politician Aaron Wojciechowski had unspoken love and support with his entire family growing up.
“I never grew up in a homophobic household,” he explained. “My parents were always very supportive, loving and caring.”
But they never talked about sexuality; at first, he thought liking the same sex was normal. But as he got older, he learned it was somewhat derogatory. Aaron knew from a young age that he was LGBTQ; since about the first grade, despite not knowing exactly what those feelings were at the time.
“I learned that maybe this isn’t something good. I’m going to keep this to myself,” he said.
Though minimal as a child, he still kept his feelings hidden. After some time, it went away — until high school, when he started thinking about it again. As he knew early on, he didn’t feel the need to look to online peers for help. However, he did take interest in online forums to read about other peoples’ experiences because he was the only gay person he knew of in his hometown of Delavan, Wis.
Aaron knew he wanted to be involved in government and politics since middle school. While touring Wisconsin’s capital for a field trip, he thought, “This is where I want to be. I want to work there one day.”
However, because of his sexuality, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to pursue that career.
“That was one of the biggest things that stopped me from coming out,” he said. “I grew up in a very accepting school and community, so I wasn’t afraid that people weren’t going to accept me. For me, I wouldn’t be able to have a family — the American dream.”
Once he was in high school, Aaron had to tell someone; it was eating at him that he couldn’t be himself publicly. So, he decided to text one of his close friends that he was bisexual.
And when he was a sophomore, he participated in a privilege walk exercise with a group of classmates he wasn’t very close to as part of a day-long activity. That day, he said out loud for the first time that he was bi.
“I wanted to tell everybody because I had already been telling my inner circle,” he said.
Later that same year, he felt the need to rip the Band-Aid off and tell everyone. While school was out for a week for winter break, he decided to draft a Facebook post.
“I never worried that I was going to lose any of my friends. I already knew going in that many of them were supportive of the community,” he explained.
Before posting it though, he had his mother read it over.
“As long as you’re safe, it’s going to be OK,” Aaron recalled her saying. Once he posted it, reactions were quite positive.
“I never received any negative things — I was never bullied or hurt in high school because of that, even though I was the only openly gay person there,” he explained.
He did have some rockiness from his dad’s side of the family because they’re more conservative and were raised Christian.
He went to pride one summer in high school and posted it on Facebook. Somehow, someone on his dad’s side of the family saw them and commented on it to his dad, who subsequently yelled at them and “set it straight.”
He had a really good support system otherwise — family, peers and teachers alike. And every December, he takes some time to reflect on that moment.
A couple years later, it came up on his memories and he edited it to say gay instead of bisexual. From then on, he would just tell people he was gay if they ever asked.
He didn’t come out to the rest of his family; he let his mother tell them.
“The one thing I do regret is not having a formal conversation with my mom. I think she always knew,” he explained, “but that’s why I felt I didn’t need to officially come out to her because growing up, she would always say little things here and there. She’s always been a very progressive and supportive person, and has good instincts.”
“One of the reasons why I got into politics was because of how easy it was for me, and I know for a majority of the people it’s not that easy,” Aaron said. “It was easy for me; I’m blessed.
“I have to use my platform and my voice to make sure that it is easy for people who come after me. If you’re able to do that, why wouldn’t you want everyone else to have that same experience? I am privileged to have had that coming out experience and I want everyone to be able to have that too.”
One of the things that inspired Wojciechowski specifically to regain the confidence of wanting to get into politics was learning about Tammy Baldwin.
“She’s one of my idols and biggest inspirations, and the fact that she’s the first openly gay person to serve in the Senate and she’s from Wisconsin of all places, it’s amazing. If she can do it, I can too.
“It’s so important to me that we have people like that in office,” he continued. “That’s why I try my best to push for educating people, making sure that we have a society that’s more accepting so people can come out.”
And for those who can’t, choose not to or aren’t safe to come out, Aaron emphasizes his belief that everything happens for a reason.
“Take that leap of faith. You can’t control how other people are gonna react; you can only control how you react or how you present yourself.
“No matter how you come out, whether it’s out loud or quiet, you’re always going to have people who are not going to be okay with it.”
Also, build a support system wherever it finds you. If the timing isn’t right now, it will be soon.
“Surround yourself with people who you know, support you and love you for who you are, and just stick with those people.
“Jump into the unknown. There’s always going to be people who don’t like you for whatever reason, and I always say it just encourages you more to prove them wrong. Hold on for one more day. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better. For people who are in a dark place, look for that light, keep pushing on. Try to find the positives in every day and you will be able to live that life that you want, where you’re out and proud and can be who you want.”