US national Coming Out Day

Bryan Ochalla | October 11, 2006

I recently heard someone describe coming out as a process that continues along a continuum. At first it didn't quite make sense to me, but after thinking it through for a bit I came to the conclusion that it was a perfect fit.

My own coming out process took many years, and in some ways continues today. I'm sure that's true of others in the GLBT community as well.

I think I've known most of my life that I was gay. Being born and raised in the Midwest muddied things a bit, as it isn't exactly a subject that comes up on the playground (other than in horribly derogatory ways, of which I quickly grew accustomed), in the classroom or around the dinner table.

It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I knew, without a doubt, that I was attracted to men – and only to men. And that's about as far as I allowed myself to think about the matter until I entered college nearly two years later.

Eventually I couldn't take being in the closet anymore and quite literally flung the doors open in one fell swoop (or so I thought). Over the course of a single weekend I told my parents, my brother (and his fianc�) and my closest friends. Everyone but my parents reacted well – and my parents' reactions were hardly horrible (they basically thought it was a phase I would outgrow and said they didn't want to talk about it any further).

Over the next few years, I continued to press my parents about the issue – I introduced them to gay friends and boyfriends and talked about issues that affected me in particular as a gay man.

At one point they met the man I would eventually marry. By this time they had come around quite successfully – they knew and understood I had been born gay and would never "change back." They also weren't uncomfortable when the word "gay" came up in conversation – an achievement worth celebrating, if ever there was one.

Marrying another guy, however, still made them shake a bit. Just like before, however, I acted like a pitbull and refused to give up on the matter. Also just like before, they eventually came around, and not only came with us when we married in Toronto in 2004, but proudly talked about the experience to their friends afterwards.

I'm not sharing my story because I'm a self-absorbed, desperate-for-attention narcissist. I'm sharing it because I think it's important for GLBT folk old and young to hear that coming out can be a positive and rewarding experience if you give it – and those around you – a chance.

That's especially important and relevant on the day long known as National Coming Out Day.

What started with a bang in 1987 – when 500,000 GLBT people and supporters marched on Washington – continues today, in its 19th year, with more supporters and participants than ever. Yet despite the event's success, it's clear the message ("be out, be proud") is as relevant as ever.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, for instance, a poll of GLBT Americans last year showed startling amounts of people not only conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from people in their lives, but many who consider themselves to be �out� also refrain from speaking to others about GLBT issues. Among the findings of the poll: only 3 percent of members of the GLBT community are out to their doctors, and less than half are out to their bosses at work.

�Obviously, coming out for the first time is important for leading a whole and complete life, but we also want to help encourage and empower people to talk openly about their lives each and every day,� Mark Shields, director of HRC's Coming Out Project, said in a recent statement.

�Every single time we talk about our lives as GLBT Americans, we are another step closer to equality,� said HRC President Joe Solmonese. �Each word helps build bridges that change hearts and minds � and eventually our laws.�

For more on National Coming Out Day, visit www.hrc.org/comingout`. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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