Today is National Coming Out Day.

Naturally, as someone who spent a very uncomfortable 4 years in the closet, this day means a lot to me. Now more so than ever. If you had told me when I was in the 7th grade, first starting to go through puberty and realize I was gay, that 12 years later I would be out and living in West Hollywood, I would not have believed it. When I first knew I was gay, my only feeling was annoyance. I was annoyed at God for adding one more thing I had to deal with to what already felt like a very long list.

At first I thought that maybe it would just go away on its own, that it was a passing phase. But the more time went on, the stronger it became. There was no denying I was attracted to men, and any fleeting attraction I had had early on towards women was nonexistent now. So, I just decided to put it on hold. I told myself, “This is a problem for future me.” And I spent the next four years very unhappy and very much alone.

It wasn’t until I began to make real, true friends my sophomore year of high school that I eventually felt comfortable enough to share that part of myself with people. And once I did, things in my life got exponentially easier. Virtually all of my friends accepted me, my family was nothing but supportive, and even my church was accepting.

I recognize, however, that this is not most people’s story. In fact, I might say that I had one of the best coming out experiences that I could have possibly had. And I am grateful for that- I am grateful that the path for me to be true to myself and honest with those around me was open and easy, and that I was supported every step of the way.

So I have to ask myself- What do I do with that? How do I take the immense luck and grace that I experienced, and use it to help other people? I know that I can’t make everyone’s coming out experience a positive one. I know that you can’t force someone to believe what you believe, and that homosexuality is never going to be something people can look at objectively. Because the reality of it is, a great many people out there view it in a negative light because of the religion that they were raised in.

I personally was raised Presbyterian, and in church every Sunday I was taught that there is a loving Creator who gave His only son to die for our sins, so that He could have a relationship with us. To me, faith has always been about being in relationship with God. But for many people, it’s not. There are rules, there are restrictions. One of these restrictions that feature prominently in many religions is the condemnation of homosexuality. Having taken classes on the Bible in college, studying it from an academic and historical perspective, I believe that those verses are taken out of context. I believe that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. But that is my belief. It is not provable, because nothing in faith is provable. That is the very nature of faith.

So how then, do I pave the way for other LGBT people to make their coming out as easy as possible? I think it’s by telling my story. I think many of the people who view homosexuality as a sin do so from a theoretical perspective. They view homosexuality from an outsider’s perspective. They think of it in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah, in terms of the AIDS crisis, promiscuity. When they think of homosexuality, they don’t think about the kid they know in church who sits there every Sunday cringing whenever the Pastor brings up “the gay lifestyle”. They don’t think about their friends and loved ones who deal with being “other” every single day of their lives, for whom discrimination and being treated like a second class citizen is a part of their daily lives.

I want them to know. I want them to know that when they talk about loving the sinner and hating the sin, that they are pushing away their son or daughter who is waiting for the right time to tell their parents something that may or may not destroy their relationship with them. I want them to know what it entails when they advocate for things like conversion therapy for minors. I have met so many gay people who have been told that there is no place for them in the church. People who have been raised to believe that there is one God, and He does not accept homosexuality, so how could He accept them? They have been sold on this lie that they don’t have a right to believe in whatever they choose, and they must either choose to live in accordance with the teaching of the Church or they cannot have a relationship with God.

I do not think it is one or the other. I think it is entirely possible for someone to grow up being taught about faith, and to come out to people who accept them wholeheartedly. And I know it’s possible because that is my story. And the more I can write about this, the more I can show people that faith and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive, the more I think people will come to understand, accept, and love people just as they are, not how they want them to be.

I thank God for all the gifts that I have been given in my life. But I know that with that, comes a responsibility to share that gift. Because the only thing someone should hear when they come out to another person is “I love you no matter what.”

-Theodore Dandy

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