I came out to my parents during my final year of seminary in North Carolina—almost a decade ago. After fumbling and mumbling about my “friend” who they had met earlier in the year, I managed to blurt out that my “friend” and I were “more than friends” and that I was gay.
My mom ended the conversation right then and there. “I don't want to talk about this any more,” she said. My dad? He offered to help me do my taxes. After sweating and pacing and feeling my heart in my throat for day, it was an anti-climactic moment that my parents and I are still working our way through. Each time we visit together, I have to come out again and again. It's gotten easier for me with each passing year—but for too many young people across this country, it hasn't.
Every year since 1988, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans have celebrated National Coming Out Day. Far from a hokey chance to sell merchandise, National Coming Out Day is a celebration of a radical act.
For straight Americans, this might seem like a weird thing to celebrate. After all, for many—though not most—LGBT folks in this country, the act of first coming out was horrifying. For some, it was a yawn: Their family and friends already knew and were just waiting for them to admit it. For many, though, coming out resulted in being kicked out of their house, being rejected by their faith community, facing homelessness, and even considering or acting on suicidal thoughts.
To make things more complicated, “coming out” for LGBT Americans isn't just a one-time thing—it's something that happens over and over again, each time someone makes the decision whether to put a yard sign in front of their house, or hold their partner's hand, or display their child's photo on their desk at work. Moment after moment, day after day, year after year, LGBT Americans come out to friends, family, coworkers, bosses, fellow church members, and strangers on the street. Moment after moment, LGBT Americans from Mississippi to Montana must make the choice to be courageous—there's no “ripping off the bandage” when it comes to being out and open as a political act in this country.
My parents are currently at my house—the home I share with my partner of six years—helping us build a patio in the backyard. They're figuring out how to be the parents of a gay daughter, and I'm figuring out how to continue being honest with them about my life and who I am. Becoming honest about who I am was the best decision I could have made, but that's not the case for every LGBT person. For too many people, being honest means losing family, losing a job, losing a home, or losing friends.
Join our call to “Come Out and Vote” on November 6. Coming out isn't a one-time thing—it requires us all to take active steps each day to ensure that this country is becoming more equal, rather than more divisive and discriminatory. Join me in coming out to vote this year— because my equality and the equality of millions of other Americans depends on it.
Keith Haring image via wikimedia
Heather Cronk is the managing director of GetEQUAL