Five years ago, I was squeezing through Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office window on the fourth floor of the Louisiana Capitol building.
The Louisiana Senate chamber’s roof provides the closest thing to box seating for downtown Baton Rouge events, and as such, the governor, his family, various staff members and I had taken the opportunity to sneak out and watch the fireworks display over the Mississippi River.
It was a rare, intimate moment with Jindal — by then infamous for his inaccessibility — and as I watched the sky light up, I wondered if he knew my secret.
To the best of my knowledge, I am the only openly gay person who has ever worked for either Jindal or the Republican Party of Louisiana. When they first hired me seven years ago, no one knew.
During my years in the Jindal machine, I became entrenched in the culture that gave birth to what we see today: fire-and-brimstone Jindal, chomping at the bit to stand in the church house door and refuse Americans their individual right to marry the one they love.
Jindal’s religious fervor lies at the bottom of a cauldron, deep within a volatile brew of equal parts religion and politics. Over time, the virulently anti-gay company he keeps has come to define him in the same way chameleons take on the color of their surroundings.
It was in a church near LSU called the Chapel on the Campus, where Jindal had his conversion experience, that I received my first lessons in political fury. Jindal’s inner circle, at the time of my involvement, was composed of experts who specialized in leveraging Christian outrage; curating that resentment was an art form they had perfected.
From Baton Rouge, we bused in hundreds of homeschooled kids from Alabama and Mississippi to do our bidding during the 2011 re-election campaign. The campaign even hired a full-time homeschool coordinator, who sat at the desk behind me and often pontificated about Lady Gaga being the Antichrist.
We watched presentations on creationism, and I once spent hours listening to a heated discussion among grown adults regarding the exact location of Noah’s Ark and what its archeological finding could mean for Republican success at the polls.
My point in sharing these anecdotes — and there are many more — is neither to disparage Christianity nor paint with broad strokes. It is to illuminate the fringe elements surrounding, insulating and shrouding the current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion.
I would not be in the position I am today without the hard political experience gained from these years, but I freely admit I regret nothing more than my complicity in the state’s relentless attacks against my fellow LGBTQ citizens. Being anti-gay was (and is) a system requirement for working in Louisiana conservative politics, and it bred a powerful self-hatred.
For this, I may be deserving of more than a few unflattering labels, but “disgruntled employee” is not among them. I have tried to make things right through activism and an inclusive spirit, which is why, last Friday, I cried throughout the day after the Supreme Court’s historic decision on marriage equality — heavy tears, tears of joy and tears tinged with regret.
I thought about all the years of rejection and times when I had seriously contemplated suicide. I thought of how my religious “friends” had ostracized and ignored me when I came out. I thought about every time a politician or authority figure — society itself — had sneered or flinched at my existence.
Yet I’m still here, penitent and hopeful, because it gets better.
It gets better because Jindal’s signature strategy of rallying bigotry diminishes in power with each passing moment. Whatever procedural or bureaucratic chicanery he attempts in order to block our freedom to marry will be fruitless, petty and ultimately unsuccessful.
This Independence Day marks the final Fourth of July Louisiana will observe under Jindal’s dishonest, destructive administration — and also the first Fourth of July that queer Americans may marry whomever they choose. For many, that’s something worth celebrating — and as Jindal fades into irrelevance, my deepest hope is that Louisiana elects new leaders who govern differently, leaders who prize fairness, charity, dignity, prudence and kindness above all.
Taylor Huckaby, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former New Media Director, works as a spokesperson and communications officer for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District.