Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, has become the first Maryland legislator to disclose that she is gay.
McIntosh, the new House majority leader in Annapolis, has been a spokeswoman for legislation important to gays in the past, but she has not made those issues publicly personal in her nearly 10 years as a delegate.
That changed in an October speech to the Women's Law Center of Maryland.
McIntosh spoke about the state's new law to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination, which was then threatened with reversal by a possible referendum.
No press covered the event, but an account was published last week in the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper.
McIntosh, 54, said yesterday that she was moved to discuss her private life after visiting friends in her Kansas hometown. She noticed a sadness in one, she said, and asked her about it.
"She said, 'Growing up in a small town, and gay, leaves a mark,'" McIntosh said.
Conversation haunted her
The conversation haunted her for weeks, she said, and forced her to think about the protection the anti-discrimination statute would give to people who aren't surrounded by tolerance.
At the law center event, she told her friend's story and ended by saying that she, too, was from that town and gay.
She said yesterday that she still considers her private life separate from her political duties and she will not change the way she works or campaigns.
McIntosh, a former teacher, is known as a progressive politician. She sponsored bills last year about education for incarcerated youth, gun-safety training for children, mortgage lending and election law, among others.
'None of my business'
Asked about the significance of McIntosh's decision, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat, said, "First of all, I think it's very personal. And it's none of my business. That's it."
Gay activists said they are proud of McIntosh and eager to claim her as one of their own, but stressed that what defines her in Annapolis is her political skill.
"Coming out the way that she did is a tremendous boost to the collective self-esteem of our community," said Catherine Brennan, a gay activist from Baltimore. "But the fact that she is the first woman majority leader in some ways is more significant."