By Emanuella Grinberg and Tony Marco
Bobby Brooks decided early on not to make his sexuality a focal point of his campaign for Texas A&M University student body president.
He didn’t need to. The 21-year-old junior has been openly gay since freshman year and served as executive vice president of diversity for the past year.
A proud Aggie, he wanted fellow students to judge him on his campaign promises to improve student services, such as dining and transportation, and student-faculty relations.
“I was open and out if anyone asked me but I didn’t talk about it in my campaign,” he told CNN. “I decided to celebrate it afterward so people would focus on the fact that I was the most qualified.”
His moment came Monday when the school declared him the next student body president, making him the first openly gay student to occupy the post.
“Bobby Brooks is a respected leader on the campus and he is going to represent people of all different backgrounds — 66,000 students,” Texas A&M spokeswoman Amy B. Smith told CNN.
Others, however, made his sexuality an issue in the hotly contested election.
Destined to be an Aggie
Brooks has been an Aggie since the day he was born. His father, a US Army veteran and A&M alum, made sure of it.
Still, growing up in the conservative central Texas town of Belton he knew he was different and feared what it could mean for him.
“I was very nervous; I was afraid of myself,” he said. “I used to just think it would go away, and I’d be fine one day. It was a very intense form of self-suppression.”
He began to embrace his sexuality while studying abroad in France the summer before freshman year. He spoke in French to come out to his best friend: “Je suis gay,” he recalls saying.
He suspected his mother knew and she eventually confirmed it, thanking him for being honest with her, he said. He was more worried about his father and let his mother share the news with him.
“Moms always know,” he said. “I was nervous about my dad and he was very accepting.”
When it came time to choose a school he said there was no question he would go to College Station, the state’s oldest public school with a prominent Corps of Cadet program, though Brooks is not enrolled in it.
“I was sucked in by the spirit since the day I was born,” he said. “There is no way I could have gone anywhere else.”
This fall, for the first time since 2011, Texas A&M was not included in the Princeton Review’s annual ranking of schools unfriendly to LGBT students. But he never worried about facing prejudice at the school.
He chooses his words carefully in describing campus climate toward the LGBT community.
“Most Aggies are very accepting but there are a few that have a negative view of people that are different than they are,” he said.
A close election
The election concluded in February with Brooks coming in second with 4,214 votes, or 29% of ballots cast. The frontrunner, who earned 4,977 votes, was disqualified amid allegations of voter irregularities and appealed the decision twice before Brooks was declared winner.
During the appeals process, Brooks said people called him homophobic slurs in public, in one instance bringing a friend to tears.
He referenced the slurs in a Facebook post after his win. But he never lost sight of his school pride.
“I can’t express enough wholehearted thanks to my family who encouraged my dreams, to my campaign team who sacrificed countless hours of free time, to every friend who smiled and hugged me when I shared this seemingly ridiculous idea, or to every person who searched me out to share their vision of how to make Texas A&M the best university in the world.
“To those of you who spoke poorly about me based upon my sexual orientation or personal religion (and talk gets around, my friends), I forgive you. I really do. To those of you who would make secret deals and meetings about our campus and our students, I implore you to not be lost in pride and to remember who it is that we are here to serve.
“I couldn’t do this for any other university; Texas A&M has always had my heart, and it always will. I’m ready to get to work, Texas A&M. Are you?”