Last month, I interviewed Boise, Idaho Council Member Lauren McLean and we covered one unusual council meeting from November 13, 2012. At the Idaho state capitol, a crowded room watched the Boise city council take testimony on an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance.
But in the fourth hour, Tabitha Osteen stepped to the microphone. In this interview, I asked her about why that council meeting was a turning point in her life.
Q: Before November 13, had you seen an entire city council meeting?
A: No, I had not.
Q: So what was your mental image of what the council meeting would be like? Did you picture protesters? Did you picture an open bar? Did you imagine the mayor would enter through a smokescreen Michael Jackson-style?
A: Really, it didn’t fall too far from what I had imagined. What I was surprised–really pleasantly surprised–by was the sheer amount of people. I was with my then-partner and our child. It felt important for me to bring my family, my representation of love.
Q: About four and a half hours into the meeting, it was your turn to speak. Have you ever listened to what you said?
A: I have not.
Q: Let’s play the clip:
I was not planning on speaking because until this moment, I was not out. I can’t remember who it was who spoke earlier with Harvey Milk’s call to come out. It’s been on my mind for years. I fall into the B and the Q portion [of LBGTQ] and it’s been really easy to hide….I brought [my son] here because I wanted him to understand that a group of people can be strong and do the right thing and protect people who need it. He has no idea that I’m one of those.
A: Honestly, I have a huge grin on my face and a little bit of watery eyes. It’s really encouraging to hear that and to bear witness to how much has changed….I just kept wondering if there were other people like me. There’s a lot of power and a lot of strength and a lot of calm that comes after that part’s done–from getting to live life out in the open more authentically.
Q: Do you think you would have said anything if your partner and son hadn’t gone home?
A: Oh, that’s a great question. Uh…yes, with much more trepidation! My ex-partner was intensely private and I am pretty intensely transparent. I don’t know that I would have changed my choice. I did feel called forth.
Q: I’ve seen council meetings where I would not call it a warm environment in which to come out. I would like to think that most councils want their meetings to be a welcoming place, but it sounds like if the environment was different, you would not have said anything.
A: Yeah, absolutely. It wasn’t a premeditated coming-out. It was a movement within myself by what was in the room. It was a response.
Q: Has this changed your expectations about what a city council meeting is like?
A: I think a demonstration of leadership like that always sparks a higher expectation of leadership. Not just in city council meetings; from everything. Something that’s so powerful about that city council environment: city councils are a representation of many aspects of a community coming together. It’s a weaving of different threads that wouldn’t necessarily see each other. In that environment, everything gets elevated.