Coming out as a gay person, or a lesbian, a bisexual, or transgender, is not an event, it's a process. A series of events, actually, because one must choose whether to share that information again and again and again.
One might be out to friends and not to family. Or out to friends and family and not at work. Or out to friends and family and at work but not at church.
Today is National Coming Out Day. That is a day, according to Wikipedia, for civil awareness for coming out and for discussion of LGBT issues.
So I'll avoid controversy and write about being gay and coming out.
I came out to a co-worker (an employee of mine actually) 15 years ago on this day, by coincidence. I didn't know it was National Coming Out Day until the next year. What a relief, to finally be able to say what I had bottled up inside for years. Of course, I knew that this person I told would be OK with it.
But in actuality I had come out a couple of months prior to that when I(figuratively) knelt before God and asked forgiveness for lying to Him and others about my sexuality and for strength as I sought to finally become the person He wanted me to be). That is when the big burden was lifted off my shoulders.
Then I came out again; to my family. At 40 something years of age that was difficult enough. I can't imagine doing so at 13 or 17 or 20 like kids are doing these days. My hat is off to them and I offer them all the encouragement in the world.
But for some of them, in fact, even for some who do not come out, things are not rosy. Some are harassed. Some are bullied, some think they have have no where to turn, some take their own lives.
Yesterday, as vigils were being held, across the country and in Birmingham, to highlight the problem of anti-gay bullying and teen suicide. Read about the Birmingham vigil and view pictures of the speakers here.
So here we are urging people to come out, but with the knowledge that some will put their relationships, their jobs, their lives, in jeopardy.
I admire those brave kids like 16 year old Garrett Hopkins who attends Vestavia Hills High School, where I graduated way back when, who has been a target of bullying at his school, yet bravely attends last night's candlelight vigil in memory of bullied kids who took their lives and speaks to the media with no apparent reservations.
I've been urging kids by telling them "It Gets Better," and for me it certainly did. Who knows what my life would have been like had I come out at 16 years of age. But at that time in Vestavia there was nothing to come out to. No support groups. No Equality Alabama, no Trevor Project, no cell phones to text my friends, no facebook and no internet and not even a cordless phone where I could get out of the kitchen to talk to someone on the phone. How was I to learn that being gay is OK?
Everyone is in a different situation and each individual must take many factors into account when deciding who to confide in. But as far as confiding in oneself goes, the first very important step, that can, and should, be done by anyone.
Now a word to the parents out there. If you have a child, that child could be gay. "Gay" here means any sexual minority. Go ahead, regardless of the age of your child, and tell yourself, "I will love my son or daughter regardless of who they chose to love or who they are attracted to."
Like most gay people, I knew as a kid that I was somehow different.
Maybe not quite this young, but a couple of years after this picture was taken I knew. I love that shirt by the way, think I could find one in my size? And I realize there's a little phallic element to the picture with the rocket and all...but I digress.
But even after I went off to college, I still could not admit to myself what I actually knew. Does that make sense? It will to some of you.
I immersed myself in religion, Campus Crusade for Christ to be precise, while submitting to secret urges on the downlow. I was as big a hypocrite as Pastor Eddie Long, I guess. Well, not really. I didn't preach or speak against homosexuality, I just shared the Four Spiritual Laws.
I only share this information in order to let questioning people of any age know that where ever you are there are steps you can take to gain self confidence and eventually to come out.
And I hope that when you do, it does get better, just as it did for me.