As the community celebrates 25 years of this day, I can't help but think about how far we've come in those 25 years. Will we always need a day to recognize this or will it eventually no longer be a big deal? Do those that lived their private gay lives prior to 1988 sit and think of how difficult it was for them to live openly and honestly?
Yet coming out never really seems to end. Even if you consider yourself out and proud. You meet a new colleague or acquaintance and they look at a ring on your finger and ask about your wife - you have to come out again. You get a new doctor and need to fill out paper work where it says single/married/civil union - you have to come out again. Sure, the fear and angst you once felt over saying the words isn't as strong, but in the back of your mind, you can't help but wonder how much you are being judged.
Ironically, I came out to my family in the summer of 1988...a few months before this day was first celebrated. I had already known for about seven years prior and had slowly told others, but was never official about it. A friend in a show that helped me to see I was not an awful person. A straight male friend in high school that cared enough for me that actually said he wished he was me so he could fight it for me. (I'll never forget those words as they were so powerful at the time.) My girlfriend - yes...told my girlfriend right before prom and she still went with me. These were all baby steps as I took off for New York and thought at first I'd simply stay in the closet my first year away at school. But those are the years when we come into our own. And being in New York definitely aided in allowing me to find the courage to begin to tell more people I was gay. But it was the summer of '88 when I went home for my grandmother's funeral (poor timing) that I ended up telling my family. Those that know my family think I have the coolest, most accepting bunch around. But trust me - that summer wasn't easy at all as they all dealt with it in their own ways. And then I did the hardest thing by leaving my parents to return to NYC, knowing they had so much pain and emotions to deal with. But time and knowledge helped and we became even closer than I ever thought we could. And a few years later, I was taking my mom to a gay pride parade.
To those that are still dealing with it, take your time. Don't allow anyone to push you. Even if times have changed, that doesn't alleviate the fear that I know you are going through. It's up to YOU to decide when you want others to know. Most importantly, you want to believe you have a support system in place: either you own family or those you have created around you.
So I do celebrate the LGBT community today. I hold my breath that New Jersey will eventually allow me to marry my partner of thirteen years. And I'm so very thankful for the family and friends that I have that have supported me the past 25 years that I have been out.