Coming out of the closet was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
You’ve heard the story before, or something like it, and excepting a handful of details, my story follows the same general script.
I was too afraid to say anything. I carried my secret everywhere I went, unable to speak up, afraid that They Might Know. What would they think? Would my coworkers treat me differently? Would my friends stop talking to me?
I shared my secret with close friends and family—those few who let me speak freely without judgment—but for the most part, I kept it bottled up. Especially in public.
Those who didn’t know me well probably could’ve guessed anyway. I’m sure many did. Still, I wasn’t ready to open up to everyone. I guarded my words, careful not to say anything that might out me by mistake, because I understood what was on the line if the wrong people found out. I was surrounded by those who believed differently and judged—no, condemned—people like me. They would consider me a pariah.
But one day, someone close to me made a very public, very hateful statement. It was enough. No more pretending. I was tired of hiding for fear that someone would find out.
I knew coming out would cost me. Going against the sexual norms of an established morality in a culture that will not tolerate opposing views is never easy. People like me are ridiculed in the public square, forced to fight legal battles for the right to conduct our lives as we wish. We’re smeared in the media and mocked around the water cooler. We’re called hateful names. People tell lies about us, and, worse, other people believe them.
It’s not just that I was different: it’s that I was different and bad. But I finally decided I had to come out, despite the risks. Besides, there were others like me; if I didn’t speak up they’d think they were going through it alone. Maybe coming out would give someone else the courage to do the same.
So I made my announcement on Facebook with a simple status update:
I support traditional marriage.
Adopting the terms of the gay movement in support of traditional marriage may seem unfair, but as lesbian and LGBT advocate Ash Beckham said in a TedxBoulder presentation:
I think we all have closets. Your closet may be telling someone you love her for the first time. Or telling someone you're pregnant. Or telling someone you have cancer. Or any of the other hard conversations we have throughout our lives. All the closet is, is a hard conversation. And although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.
Or, one is tempted to add, telling someone you affirm the institution of marriage as a permanent, exclusive bond between one man and one woman.
“My closet is no different than yours,” Beckham continued. “Sure, I'll give you a hundred reasons why coming out of my closet was harder than coming out of yours, but here's the thing: Hard is not relative. Hard is hard.”
I don’t want to minimize the personal struggles of my gay friends. Neither do I intend to say that my coming out was harder than theirs. Here’s Beckham again:
There is no ‘harder,’ there is just ‘hard.’ We need to stop ranking our ‘hard’ against everybody else's ‘hard’ to make us feel better or worse about our closet and just commiserate on the fact that we all have ‘hard.’
So, yeah, coming out as pro-traditional marriage is hard. The tide of cultural, legal, social and public opinion is strong and may have turned—in part, I suspect, because so many of us are hiding in our closets. Federal judges are overturning amendments and laws that reinforce traditional marriage and protect the unique goods provided by this institution. Those of us who openly support traditional marriage are being fired for voicing our untoward beliefs. Our ministries are losing tax exempt status and cutting services. We’re targeted with campaigns and lawsuits that effectively shutter our businesses. We’re being being ousted from leadership positions in multi-million dollar corporations.
“What we have here,” gay writer and LGBT advocate Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, “is a social pressure to keep your beliefs deeply private for fear of retribution. We are enforcing another sort of closet on others.”
Here’s my encouragement to those who quietly support traditional marriage, particularly those in the millennial generation: It’s time to come out of this closet. We need your voices: speak up with conviction and kindness. We need your stories: tell them winsomely and courageously. Be gracious, be considerate, and above all be loving—but please, be heard.
It’s hard. It’s scary. You’ll lose a few friends on Facebook, maybe even a few in real life. People will call you a bigot, a hater, a homophobe, and worse. They’ll tell you you’re standing on the wrong side of history. You’ll be marked as a rube, a philistine, a barbarian. You’ll be told you’re no different from a racist.
Don’t listen to them. Come out, loud and proud. We’re waiting with open arms.Media: