Come out of the Closet: A Plea to my Generation

Come out of the Closet: A Plea to my Generation

Last update on April 16, 2014.

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.

Josh Bishop

Josh is a husband, father and professional writer. He lives and works in West Michigan. Follow him on twitter @joshbishop.


  1. Caroline

    Caroline on 04/16/2014 12:53 p.m. #

    Thanks for what you are saying and for being bold enough to invite a hard conversation.

  2. George

    George on 04/16/2014 5:04 p.m. #

    I support traditional marriage too. I wish more couples worked things out before giving up on their marriages. Supporting traditional marriage doesn't exclude supporting the rights of same-sex couples to marry as well.

  3. Elizabeth

    Elizabeth on 04/17/2014 5:07 p.m. #

    I would wager a guess that you don't have a "traditional" marriage either. Marriage based on romantic love is a relatively new thing. Unless your parents matched you in order to increase land ownership, money or power between the clans, your marriage isn't sticking with any tradition, either.

    Because your article is so short, it's unclear how much you actually know about marriage equality. Without marriage equality, same sex partners can't visit their partners in ICU rooms. They can't inherit property without a will. It complicates parentage issues. Why is it that you and your wife deserve these "unique goods" and protection under the law simply because you were born heterosexual?

    Denying same sex couples equal protection under the law teaches the lesson that lgbt folks are less than heterosexuals. Which leads to discrimination. And violence. Google "Matthew Shepard" and "Brandon Teena". See how much hate is directed at our community rooted in the idea that we are less deserving of basic safety and happiness than our peers. Google Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial Hospital and see why marriage equality is vital.

    As a queer person who has never been married, I've always been curious what it is about heterosexual marriage that is so weak that simply giving same sex couples equal rights threatens it. The divorce rate of the conservative right seems to have more to do with their choices than with what lgbt folks are doing.

    The whole point of your article is that you think people who are against marriage equality shouldn't be afraid to speak up. I agree. It is good to know who the bigots are in the room. But if you truly believe your marriage, your "unique goods" are threatened by extending those rights to others who are just like you in so many ways, you shouldn't deny being a bigot and a homophobe. You've made the choice to voice your hate and fear. Own that choice.

    Is a few names really all that bad? Here are some things lgbt people have to look forward to when they come out of the closet/live their truths: being disowned, being kicked out of their homes, violence, death, poverty, disproportionate incarceration, denial of public services, discrimination in the workplace. Being denied marriage rights. Will you or your peers be facing any of that?

    As a civil rights attorney who has worked on (and won) marriage equality cases, I've had the good fortune to work with faith leaders from all denominations. It's worth mentioning that some truly believed that we are sodomites and will burn in hell, but that it was our business and denying us equal rights was wrong. The faith leaders that stand with us as we fight the civil rights battle of our generation are the truly brave ones who are taking a risk by speaking up.

    Those who cloak their hatred behind ideas of "tradition" and being owed things just on the nature of their being? There is absolutely no bravery in that.

  4. Kristopher

    Kristopher on 04/17/2014 8:09 p.m. #

    I don't understand your pride in wanting to deny legal marriage rights to loving couples that in no way would negatively affect you or your marriage. You claim to have gay friends. Why would you deny them the same legal rights given to you and your wife? Looking down on the relationships of other consulting adults because they look different from yours amounts to nothing more than bigotry - no matter how you try to spin it.

  5. Mel

    Mel on 05/09/2014 12:52 a.m. #

    After years of being for gay marriage, I'm now for only traditional marriage. Gays can have lawyers draw up power of attorney and other documents to protect their rights. The issue isn't that I hate gays. I love everybody. It's that I believe that homosexuality is not healthy. They get HIV at a much higher rate than heterosexuals do. They get depression at higher rates even in the Netherlands where it's more accepted. Kids generally do better having a mother and a father. I am also in the closet in real life. I thought I'd come out here for the sake of the person getting wrongly labeled as bigoted.

  6. Tim Eber

    Tim Eber on 09/21/2014 2:29 a.m. #

    "I don’t want to minimize the personal struggles of my gay friends." Nah, that's why you just did exactly that. But hey, you successfully mined a quote from someone in Boulder and used it to give yourself permission. So it's all good. Maybe next time you can mine a quote some Jewish person in Oshkosh and then compare gay marriage to the Holocaust.

    I cannot imagine how someone becomes so thoughtless and lacking in empathy, even while he thinks himself playful and endearing.

  7. Justin

    Justin on 05/13/2015 10:35 a.m. #

    It's amazing how hard so many people find it to keep separate having empathy and defining right and wrong. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, which keeps one from being empathetic towards someone while maintaining a belief that something they do is wrong except judgmentalism or a lack of critical thinking.

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