Growing up in a working class community just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I, like many other gay men and lesbians, knew at a very early age that I was “different” in some way that I could not quite put my finger on. It wasn’t until about 6th grade that I began connecting the dots. Sound familiar?
I won’t lie and say that those first few early years of trying to wrap my head around what being gay meant were easy. At that age, you really do just want to fit in. It isn’t until college that marching to the beat of a different drummer really is considered cool (maybe by then people just don’t care). Nevertheless, there was no changing who I was, and even during those first confusing years, I really didn’t want to.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with parents and a sister who I knew would always be there for me no matter what. I can’t really say enough about how just knowing that can put you at ease. Being raised by two people who care passionately about issues of social justice and civil rights also helped.
When I did eventually come out and tell my family what was by then a long accepted part of my own identity, they were indeed there for me (as I always knew they would be in the back of my mind). Today, my dad keeps me in the loop about the latest goings on about gay rights issues back home in Pennsylvania. I’m sure pride parades can’t be too far off!
I know this is not the reality that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are lucky enough to experience growing up. There are some people who feel it best to keep that part of themselves permanently tucked away out of fear of the reactions from those closest to them.
As someone who works for the ACLU, I should probably spend this time urging you to join the efforts to secure full marriage equality for the many committed and loving couples who currently lack the protections others take for granted or encourage you to contact your members of Congress about FINALLY passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. For the record, I do encourage you to do those things. But there is something much simpler that can be done by each and every one of us that does not require legislative action or groundbreaking court decisions – simply work to create a society where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can live their lives in the open and with the support and love of those closest to them.
We’ve made really fantastic progress in the four decades since the Stonewall Riots, and it would not have been possible without the many untold numbers of LGBT people stepping forth and saying “This is who I am.”
It really is amazing how simply being a supportive father, sister, aunt, grandmother, friend, roommate, co-worker, etc. can matter. It made all the difference for me.