Reflecting on ‘Coming Out’ to Celebrate National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day and though widespread acceptance of LGBT people is common, the process of coming out remains both difficult and sacred for many. Bondings 2.0 provides excerpts from several coming out accounts published recently that deal with coming out and Catholicism.

First, there is Jonah Saribay, a gay man from a traditional Filipino Catholic family, who shared his story in Honolulu Civil Beat about the coming out process, and how marriage equality could affect this. The news site reports:

“During Saribay’s sophomore year at Farrington High School in 2010, he was conflicted. He had hidden his sexual orientation for years — and then, for a while, tried to convince himself and his friends that he was bisexual.

‘I was so unhappy that I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live. I was gay, and I wanted to live my life as a gay man.’

Toward the end of that school year, he finally found the courage to tell his parents something that he had long known about himself. And when he did, he was in for a surprise: They were fine with the news and they said they loved him unconditionally.

The greatest challenge, he recalled, was ‘accepting myself. I was trying for years to get out of my own shell.’ “

Set amid a piece on Hawaii’s potential passage marriage equality, Saribay believes legalized marriage for same-gender couples would ease coming out for other LGBT youth by advancing the type of social acceptance he received even in a conservative Catholic family. Passing marriage equality could also curtail all-too-frequent bullying and harassment aimed at youth for their sexual orientation or gender identity. You can read more about how Hawaii’s educational system is working towards these goals already and the state’s push for equal rights on the Civil Beat website.

Second is the story of Derek Schell, who is the first openly gay male player in NCAA Division II basketball and who wrote an account of his coming out for OutSports this week. In the essay, Schell touches upon his Catholic schooling and Christian faith, as well as his renewed passion for the sport. After expressing the pain he underwent as young person growing up in a conservative area of the US, he writes about the decision to come out and how grateful he is to have made it, saying:

“In experiencing opposite ends of the spectrum in homophobia and in unconditional love, I have learned so many things from so many different types of people and haven’t been limited to just one way of thinking. It has been a blessing in disguise…Not only is life too short to dwell on other people’s expectations for you, but it is your decision to choose your attitude and how you react to your surroundings…

“Sometimes the darkest times in life are only doorways to the best moments of your life, the ones you were meant to experience and live to see…My challenge to you, whoever is reading this, is to be honest with yourself and how you’re feeling. God doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t keep saying you’re fine. You can be who you are and still be an athlete. You can do all the things you want to do and live a beautiful life that you’ve imagined for yourself. Find your peace of mind knowing you are giving your best self to the world. Be brave. Be love. But most of all, be you.”

Lastly, Daniel Reynolds, a staff member at The Advocate, writes about how his Catholic identity positively influenced his coming out experience. An altar server from age seven, Reynolds speaks about the belief in miracles he was imbued with when learning the faith and continues:

“As I grew older and taller, and my white robes began to cover less and less of my legs, I began to realize that I was attracted to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (in the biblical sense, indeed). At the time, it was a horrifying revelation. As I prepared for confirmation, the sacrament that asks a young person to pledge himself or herself to the church, I considered my sexuality to be an insurmountable obstacle in admission to the fold…

“It was around this time that something miraculous occurred.

The miracle was Antioch, a youth group Reynolds attended semi-annually where taboo topics were discussed over weekend retreats, leading him to come out eventually:

“For the first time in my life, I had entered a circle where I was entrusted with the secrets of others. Through Antioch and my church, I received one of the most powerful and most influential lessons of growing up — the cognizance that other people struggle with pain, and the responsibility of a community to help its members overcome it.

“Until Antioch, I had only shared the secret of my sexual orientation to one or two close friends…I began to realize that sharing my story would serve a purpose. In my heart I knew that other people in my group must be going through the same struggle, or they knew or were related to a person in the same situation. With this in mind, I decided that I would come out to my church. I believed that it was what God wanted me to do.”

Reynolds came out to his church and was warmly welcomed by the hundred people in attendance including his priest.  Now, the criticism Reynolds receives is often from the LGBT community who cannot understand his participation in the Catholic Church. While validating these criticisms, Reynolds concludes:

“But the truth is, the Catholic Church is a large part of the reason I am an openly gay man today. It has helped me to become a better person. Perhaps my experience is the exception rather than the rule, but I can’t help but believe that the love and support I received in the room that day — and that I continue to receive from my Catholic friends — outweigh the words of old strangers in Rome. I have yet to find sufficient reason to abandon the faith that has guided my parents, grandparents, ancestors, and myself toward a brighter star…

“For a gay Catholic, the words of the new pope are reason to be hopeful. Perhaps, in my lifetime, the church will recognize the sanctity of same-sex marriage. Perhaps not. In the meantime, I have to reach my own new balance of faith and love. I am gay. I am Catholic. And after all, miracles happen every day.”

Writing in the Winona Daily News, John Rupkey asks each of us, gay and straight, an important question on this day. Calling to mind both the wounds a homophobic hierarchy inflicts on the LGBT community and the wounds born by closeted gay priests, he address the laity:

“Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. I would like to suggest that on that day the non-gay people of God consider coming out in support of gay people. Coming out doesn’t mean shouting from a soap box. The first step in coming out is coming out to yourself.

“When asked if he approved of homosexuality, Pope Francis replied with a question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?”

“On Oct. 11, how will you answer that question?”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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