Freedom to Marry reflects on coming out process on National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11, 2013, is the 25th Annual National Coming Out Day, a day to celebrate LGBT people and reflect on the importance of "coming out" - the process of disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity to friends, family, and community members. LGBT people have been coming out for many years, but the idea of honoring the process through a more formally recognized national day of awareness and conversation began in 1988, one year after the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. 

The coming out process has always been just that - a process. A process that often involves dozens of conversations about what being LGBT means (and what it doesn't mean), sometimes includes challenging tension in personal relationships or a struggle to be understood by community members, and almost always is ultimately met with a feeling of relief that the person is at last free to be themselves. Today, on National Coming Out Day, we acknowledge and celebrate that process by reflecting on our own steps forward, applauding everyone who has taken that step, and supporting those who are not yet ready to take that step.

To acknowledge National Coming Out Day, Freedom to Marry has compiled some of our favorite "coming out" stories - and a few new stories - that coincide with conversations about the freedom to marry. Don't miss these great pieces, which are at times moving, funny, and freeing.

How this Tennessee Woman Came Out, Fell in Love, and Became a Marriage Advocate

Lindsey Wagoner never thought that she would be a vocal advocate for the LGBT community, or for the freedom to marry. As a young girl growing up in Ooltewah, Tennessee, she struggled to come to terms with her sexuality, finding it difficult to identify as a lesbian and feeling bullied by her classmates in middle school and high school at nearly every turn. She dealt with the regular challenges of being a teenager in a small town, but on top of that, she questioned why she wasn’t more interested in dating boys and why she didn’t fit in with the rest of the kids in school. And when she did realize that she is gay, she was nervous and afraid to tell her family members and friends.

Just a few years later, much of that fear and uncertainty is behind Lindsey; nearly three years ago, she met Megan Smith, and the women quickly fell in love. Since then, they’ve moved in together in Chattanooga, Tennessee, gotten engaged, and started an organization dedicated to winning the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in their state called Tennessee Marriage Equality.

Lindsey and Megan have found inspiration to speak out about why marriage matters to them through their personal struggles in growing up and fighting for acceptance in their community. Reflecting on those stories and understanding those motivations for our passions is hugely important. That’s why Lindsey took the time to share her own coming out story and track her growth from a young girl in a sheltered Tennessee school to a confident and outspoken woman speaking out on behalf of same-sex couples and LGBT people across Tennessee.

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A Mother 'Comes Out' with her Daughter's Wedding Photo 

A few weeks after her wedding to her longtime partner Elaine, Mignon Moore looked at the Facebook page of her 64-year-old mother, who attended the wedding. Mignon saw a gorgeous photo, one of her and Elaine smiling and walking each other down the aisle, ready for the next phase in their lives. The text that her mother wrote to accompany the post read:

"All of my friends already know my first-born Mignon. A few months ago in New York she legally married the person she chose to spend the rest of her life with! Last week about 40 of her friends and family went to Mexico with them to hav e a par-tay! They renewed their vows and I was very proud to be there for my daughter. A mother's loveis real and from the heart. I love my daughter, and I will support her until God calls me home. If you feel that I did something wrong, PLEASE, PLEASE feel free to delete me. I promise you - it will be OK with me. I have loved you, Mignon, from the day you were born, and I promise you I will until the day I die. ♥"

"What she was really saying was that she was 'coming out' to her Facebook friends about my sexuality," Mignon said. "She didn't say it that way - but that's what she meant. This was her making a statement: That this is her daughter, that she's chosen to make a life with this person, and that this is her wedding picture. That was the equivalent of her 'coming out' - and that was scary for my mom."

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PA Husbands Work Toward Family Acceptance, Hand in Hand

A moment of tension at a 40th Anniversary party for Michael Wascovich's parents resonates for Michael and Glenn Wascovich, who married this summer in Maryland, as a strong encapsulation of the growth that Michael's family has experienced with regard to his sexuality and his relationship over the past nine years. It showed that the family still had room to grow, but that if they followed the lead of Michael's father, they would quickly see the importance of supporting Michael's freedom to be with the person he loves.

Michael had "come out" to his family members as gay just a few months prior. His parents struggled to reconcile their Catholic faith and their lack of familiarity with gay people, but over time, they grew to understand that their value for love, family, and happiness for their children compelled them to support Michael in his coming out process. Stories like Michael's and Glenn's remind us that when LGBT people "come out," they provoke change in their friends, in their families, and in their communities.

When Michael introduced his family members to Glenn, just a few months after he initially came out to them, the Wascovichs' acceptance process became much easier. "There was such a short period of time from when he came out to when he had a relationship, so we were seen as just a normal couple," Glenn explained. "There was nothing different about our relationship than the relationships Michael's siblings had. It was extremely helpful for Michael's family to see that." 

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Hawaii Judge Who Made Marriage History Officiates at Lesbian Daughter's Wedding Ceremony

Twenty years ago, Justice Steven Levinson made history while serving on the Hawaii Supreme Court: He authored the opinion in Baehr v. Miike, the first appellate court decision in global history to find that a state constitution presumptively prohibited marriage discrimination for same-sex couples. In the opinion, Justice Levinson wrote that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the Hawaii Constitution, and that if the state could not show sufficient justification for its denial of the freedom to marry, the ban on same-sex couples marrying would be overturned.

The twenty years since the Baehr ruling have been unprecedented for a social movement, but Levinson is proud to have been a part of these early days. It's long been his dream to see the freedom to marry nationwide. It's also been a longtime dream of his to officiate at the wedding ceremony of his daughter Jen, who came out to him as gay just a year and a half after he filed his opinions in Baehr. 

Jen, a college student home for winter break, asked her dad one night if she could accompany him on a drive. "She had been making small talk, and at the end of our drive, I turned to her and said, 'So, what do you want to talk about?,' Levinson said. "She asked me a one-sentence question that took her two minutes to deliver. She said: 'How would you feel if I were to tell you that I was more attracted to women than men?' And when that question mark got put on the end of that sentence, I said to her, 'See - that wasn't so hard, was it?'"

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Marriage Advocate: 'When I Came Out at 15, I Never Would Have Dreamed of Full Equality for LGBT People in my Lifetime. Now, I Do.'

My coming out and my parents’ reaction made a tense situation even worse. Simple disagreements became shouting matches that ended with me angry, confused and hating myself. The one saving grace in my family was my grandmother. Also a committed Christian, she was the one person who didn’t judge me, even if she didn’t understand me. 

When the situation with my parents became unbearable, I went to live with my grandmother, and that made all the difference in the world. It would be dishonest to say that all of my problems disappeared, but living with her did give me a place where, for once, I felt safe as a scared gay kid. I didn’t feel like I was being judged or blamed for being who I was.

My grandmother's support and love for me only continued to grow. As states began to legalize marriage between gay couples, her most frequently asked question went from “Are you eating enough?” to “When are you going to get married?”

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My Parents' Process: From Tentative Supporters to Proud Allies

On a Saturday night in October 2008, I told my parents that I am gay. I said, "OK. So I know this is probably going to be weird, but I don't want you to get mad or anything. And I want you to know that you can ask me whatever you want about it, because I'm really comfortable with it." I paused and half-watched the Kleenex commercial out of the corner of my eye, cursing myself for forgetting to bring in the box in case my mom started crying. "I'm, like, gay and stuff." 

Yes. I came out to my parents by telling them that "I'm, like, gay and stuff." And stuff.

Thankfully, they didn't fully hear, so I had a second chance to do it better. I hesitated a bit again, but this time I spoke with more confidence: "I'm gay." 

My mom and dad both sat semi-frozen. Then finally, my Dad opened his mouth, testing his theory that if he just starts talking, things won't be awkward. "Well," he said. "I'm...I'm really glad you feel comfortable telling us. We're really glad you could tell us. Let's talk about, let's just talk it out."

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A Son Comes Out to His Father, Republican Senator Rob Portman

WILL PORTMAN, in the Yale Daily News: I started talking to my dad more about being gay. Through the process of my coming out, we’d had a tacit understanding that he was my dad first and my senator a distant second. Eventually, though, we began talking about the policy issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples.

We had decided that my dad would talk about having a gay son if he were to change his position on marriage equality. It would be the only honest way to explain his change of heart. Besides, the fact that I was gay would probably become public anyway. I had encouraged my dad all along to change his position, but it gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me.

I’m proud of my dad, not necessarily because of where he is now on marriage equality (although I’m pretty psyched about that), but because he’s been thoughtful and open-minded in how he’s approached the issue, and because he’s shown that he’s willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand. He was a good man before he changed his position, and he’s a good man now, just as there are good people on either side of this issue today.

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WNBA Player Comes Out as Gay with Engagement News

This summer, Seimone Augustus competed in the London Olympics on the USA basketball team, and she spoke often about her fianceé LaTaya Varner. This week, she spoke with the Associated Press about her personal connection to the proposed amendment in Minnesota, explaining that she'd love to marry her fiancée in the state where she lives. She also talked about why she came out, saying:

"I felt like it was the perfect time for me, being on a platform where I can make a change with my voice and my situation - maybe inspire someone else to come out and be comfortable with themselves. Or maybe someone else's parents will see my parents saying that it's OK to be with your child and love your child unconditionally regardless of your sexual preference."

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