Coming out as an LGBT person or ally can be a rewarding experience for an individual who has had confusion about identity or has kept a known identity a secret. No doubt, in some instances the experience can be frightening and even challenging at first, depending on a person’s situation. But usually the experience of living authentically and honestly provides a person with not only good self-esteem, but also with unknown wells of interior courage.
What is sometimes forgotten in the process is that the benefits experienced from a person’s coming out often extend beyond the life of that one individual. A recent sports story in The New York Times illustrates this phenomenon well. The article described the experience of Jake Bain, an Indiana State University football player who came out as gay last year while a senior in high school. The Times reported his experience:
“The Indiana State University athlete’s very public coming out last fall — during a 13-minute speech inside an auditorium to his entire Missouri high school — was an act that continues to shape his life in ways he could not have imagined back then.
” If a future Division 1 football player can be openly gay,’ Jake, at the time the popular square-jawed captain of the John Burroughs high school football team, said to those who had assembled, ‘then so can you.’ “
Bain has used his prominence as a college athlete to let other LGBT youth know that it is okay for them to come out, too. He has over 13,500 followers on Instagram. His prominence has brought out detractors, as well, but Bain continues speaking out and helping other youth.
What caught my eye in the Times story was one particular Catholic youth he helped:
“In April, he received a message from a closeted Irish teenager who described the relentless bullying he experienced at his Catholic all-boys school. ‘I just admire your bravery and I need someone to guide me on what to do,’ the boy wrote.
“Jake offered some advice and months later, he received a new message: ‘Jake, one week ago I came out to my family,’ wrote the boy, who explained that he had shared Jake’s story with his religious parents, which ultimately helped them accept him for who he is.
” ‘Thank you so much,’ the boy wrote. ‘You were the reason I decided to come out.’ ‘
I doubt very much that Jake Bain imagined that his coming out as a young gay man would help someone half a world away. But it did. In our increasingly smaller world, our actions, especially those that are intended to be honest, true, and just, can help people we would never normally meet. Jake himself mentioned that his own coming out was helped by hearing the story of Michael Sam, the first college football player to come out as gay.
And so it goes. Our stories help other people tell their stories. In a great web, our stories become interconnected, a communion of saints, and we may never even know who we have touched or how deeply we touched them God’s grace works in truly mysterious ways.
And our stories are a powerful factor in changing the world, and our church. As Bain said in his coming out speech: ““Nothing ever changes without people showing that it is O.K. to be different.”
New Ways Ministry invites you to share another kind of personal story with our readers. You are invited to write a short narrative about your relationship with the Catholic Church from your perspective as an LGBT person or ally. Click here for more information. The deadline is December 17, 2018, 5:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. time.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 13, 2017