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Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Come Out or Not to Come Out; That Is the Question

Hide and Seek is a child's game; one that I used to play with relish. I much preferred hiding. It was so much more fun than wandering aimlessly looking, often in vain, for my brother or other friends.  One of my tactics was to follow behind the seeker and hide where he had already looked! Now that I am older (much), I, in the words of the apostle Paul, have put away childish things.

But for today's LGBT, hiding is not so much fun.  In fact, the "closet" is a miserable place to hide. I will devote a series to this later, but for now, I want to encourage my gay friends to consider "coming out."

One question I get asked these days is how do I account for the rapid change in America's attitude toward approving same-sex marriage and things gay in general?  The answer is not complicated. When the gay rights movement took off in the last half of the 20th century, it was of necessity led by the more militant, strident and ostentatious protesters. "We're here, we're queer. Get used to it," was their rallying cry. Gay pride parades featuring drag queens, nudity, Dykes on Bikes, and my personal favorite, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,  were forcing themselves and their cause into the public discourse. Naturally, they made as many enemies as friends, as these remain the stereotypical gays in the minds of the opposition.

But something happened.  As we are now well into the 21st century, LGBTs have a new face. They are represented by such as gay New York Fire Department Catholic chaplain Father Mychal Judge. Judge, 68, was killed while ministering to a fallen firefighter at Ground Zero. Or, Mark Bingham, 31, a gay passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, helping to thwart the plane's hijackers. Father Judge is being considered for sainthood, and September 16th is officially designated Mark Bingham Day in San Francisco.

The murder and torturing of sweet-faced Matthew Shepard made us sorrow.  He could have been our brother or son.  Then when the Phelps family picketed his funeral displaying "Matthew Shepard is in hell" signs, we became indignant. We were startled when Ellen DeGeneres came out, but we continued to love her and tune into her TV show by the millions. We adored Liberace, and when we found out the truth of his sexuality, it only disturbed us that he was forced to hide it all his life. We became aware, person by person, from the famous to the unknown, that so many people we thought we knew turned out to have a secret.

Some of them were our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, even our parents. Each one, dear to us.  They taught us a valuable lesson: their sexuality ultimately made no difference to us. They were the same person before and after. We found them to be as normal as the next person. Then when we saw gay characters portrayed on TV or in the movies, they seemed like everyone else, well...perhaps funnier, and maybe better looking, but not that different.

I can't tell you the percentage increase over other periods, but the 21st century has seen a huge increase of out of the closet, or never in the closet LGBTs, who are as normal as the next Joe or Jane, José or Maria. We no longer (in the main) distrust their motives, or are nervous among them, or see them as different. We elect them to public office, ordain them as our pastors, work for them or hire them, even hang out with them.  We listen to their music (Leonard Bernstein), watch their movies (Jodie Foster) and TV shows (Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"), listen to their news shows (Anderson Cooper), read their books (Truman Capote), recite their poetry (Emily Dickinson), marvel at their art (Michelangelo), watch their plays (Tennessee Williams), and engage them in countless ways and not even know it.

It slowly but surely dawned on us: these people we formerly didn't know are now as welcome in our lives as anyone else. All because they came out in sufficient numbers that a tipping point arrived.

I have no standing to urge any LGBT who is still in the closet to come out.  I understand, somewhat, the toll it can take on someone ill prepared.  I know that there are good reasons for some to stay closet-bound, and I hope you can be safe there.  But for the many others who are contemplating coming out, I only wish to say to you that your brother and sister LGBTs who have come out have made all the difference in general acceptance across our country.  So, if you do come out, it will mean a further deepening of that acceptance. All those who knew you before will now know that you are one like themselves, a normal American living a useful life, complete with the trials and rewards life brings to us all.

But in one way, if you chose to come out, you will be something most of us will never be: a hero.
"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." ~Christopher Reeve 

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