October 11 is a day I didn’t used to notice. I had no idea the significance of it or the significance it would one day hold for me. October 11 is National Coming Out Day.
My story is much like others and yet also uniquely my own. I came out in 2007 at the age of 26. Those who knew me prior to this moment weren’t surprised and those who knew me after, who know me now, wonder how it took me 26 years to discover who I truly was. But there is no wrong path, no wrong age, no wrong way to self discovery.
That evening in 2007 wasn’t the first time someone had asked me if I was gay. Well, if we’re being honest, this person—my roommate—didn’t ask me. We were attending my first drag king show where her girlfriend was performing. I’d seen plenty of drag queen shows at New Beginnings but had never seen a drag king show. I was curious, but not ready to admit how curious I was. That evening my roommate informed me that everyone I’d met in the past month since starting grad school in Washington, D.C. believed I was gay.
The horror and embarrassment I felt was overwhelming. This secret that I was just starting to discover myself, not yet ready to talk about, not yet ready to sort out, was public. Or so it felt. So I did what any panicking person would do; I called every contact in my cellphone… twice… to see if they had thought this, too.
Most played dumb. (Thank you for that.) Only a couple owned up to having thought this previously. But to be honest, all these years later, I’m not sure I could now tell you who’d thought what during those panicked 2 weeks of phone calls. I’m also not sure that detail matters. What does matter is I had a great group of friends, including my roommate, who helped me through the process of understanding what all those thoughts and feelings meant. They let me talk, answered any questions I had, and then assured me that everything was going to be alright.
Eleven years later, I own who I am. Yes, telling my family a decade ago was a struggle. Most of my family was completely and totally accepting of who I am. My father drew a line in the sand by telling me that no one I was dating was welcome in his house because of my two impressionable little brothers. We’ve barely spoken since then.
Lots of things in life are complicated and coming out can be scary, even though it shouldn’t be. We live in a world where not every community, not every neighborhood is safe. But that’s one of the reasons I got involved in politics—because politics is really about people, about advocating for people, telling their stories, and advocating for their rights. I believe that every small step we take, every little thing we do makes it that much better, that much safer, that much more inclusive for all of us.
In September, I experienced something I never thought I would see in the Tri-Cities, in my hometown—the first annual TriPride Parade and Festival. Downtown Johnson City and Founders Park were illuminated by a rainbow of color and I couldn’t have been more proud. This is exactly how we bring more jobs, attract more families, and keep our youth—by doing everything to show and be that we’re welcoming to everyone here.
Today might not be a safe day for you to come out; and that’s okay. Please know I have your back. The LGBTQ+ community has your back. And that allies have your back. We’re going to keep working to make it a safe day for you to come out, to know that you are loved and accepted when you come out.
Thank you to the LGBTQ+ elders and advocates who fought and died to make it so that I could come out. Thank you to the LGBTQ+ elders and advocates who stood in the streets and said no more, who launched the modern gay rights movement at the Stone Wall Inn in New York City, and other gay and lesbian bars around the nation. I can only hope that my story, my journey, my advocacy, and my work is making you proud.
Washington County Democratic Party