October 11 is designated in the United States as National Coming Out Day. This day is set aside to encourage the silent among us to tell those around them that they can't object to "the gay" without acknowledging that real people in their own lives are LGBT. In recent decades, we've found that, as Harvey Milk said, personally knowing LGBT people helps "once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions". So here's my short treatise - posted here to Daily Kos, on my Facebook page, and in an e-mail to my entire family - in honor of 2012's National Coming Out Day.
First, I'm an atheist. I know that this is upsetting to many and shocking to a few, but it's my view of the world. I believe in no ghosts, demons, angels, or gods. I believe that the supernatural myths of Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and Christians are as true as the legends of the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. I believe that a God who would let the Jewish Holocaust go on without His interference probably won't bless your football game or help your Aunt Madge with her ulcer. I believe that an all-knowing, all-powerful God who sent His only Son to die for our eternal sins at the hands of ordinary civil authorities might have bothered to mention the Germ Theory of Disease in His books to His chosen people. I believe that the astronomy we see in the sky and the biology we see on the Earth are real, regardless of what anyone's ancient Holy Scripture might say to the contrary. I believe that religions are instituted among people, by people, and largely for interest of the people who make their living from those religions. I believe that no god would bless or condemn your eternal afterlife on the grounds of whether you married a man or a woman. And I don't believe that people who believe in religious myths have, or deserve, any special claim to authority or morality.
Oh, and I'm gay. Well, not quite gay - I was married for seven years, and that alone disqualifies me from fully punching my gay card. Technically, I'm bisexual. In my individual case, that's a label indicating that I'm only mostly gay. I've dated both men and women in the past, but now date men pretty much exclusively. This isn't a surprise to many of you who read this, since I've been out to my close friends and family for several years. I tried to follow the example of CNN's Anderson Cooper: for years, obviously and famously gay but not officially out - the term "glass closet" was coined largely for him. For a while, that seemed like a good model. But now that AC is publicly out of the closet, it doesn't seem that grown man being "partially out" is good enough.
Anderson's 180 doesn't really tell my story, however. There were two things stopping me from writing this down prior to this year. One was my family - my kids. They are three wonderful, smart, caring young men, whom I've been proud to raise. But in the State of Michigan, LGBT people do not have parenting rights. Now there's no law in Michigan saying that LGBT people can't get custody of their kids. (There are laws preventing their same-sex partners becoming adoptive co-parents the way opposite-sex stepparents can. But that's a different issue.) However there is a line in Michigan's child custody guidelines which allows judges to award or remove parenting rights based on the "moral character" of a parent. And there's nothing - NOTHING - to stop an anti-gay judge from removing or limiting an LGBT parent's custody or visitation rights using that broad guideline. This may be the one great moment of cowardice in my life: I refused to put myself in a position where I could become a test case at the expense of my relationship with my own children. Maintaining custody of my own kids was more important to me than proving a political point, even if that point might ensure that other LGBT parents could raise their kids without fear. But my boys are now past the point where this could be an issue for us personally. So I can loudly and boldly (if somewhat uncourageously) proclaim myself a part of the LGBT community without fear of losing them.
The second thing that delayed this coming out was a matter of principle. It may be skewed or misguided, but it was my principle. I really wanted (and still want) to advance the view of LGBT equality in the people around me. But I really wanted to do that as a matter of principle, not as a personal favor to me. I don't know whether this motivation makes much sense on its face. But I wanted the people around me to believe in equality not out of sympathy or support for me personally, but because it is right - because it is the moral, ethical, and decent way to treat people. I'm very happy to know that I've been mostly successful on this front. My kids, my close family, and nearly all of my friends proudly support full equality for LGBT people. (I don't claim much credit for the views of anyone other than my own kids, but I'm still proud and happy for all the people I know who are pro-equality). Not everyone in my life shares this worldview. But this year, I'm turning a corner. I am no longer advocating for a pro-equality worldview just as a platitude; I'm telling people that if you are against the full respect and equality of LGBT people, you must do that knowing that you are opposing me and my family personally.
So there it is: I'm a queer atheist. This isn't a reaction to some trauma or abuse in childhood; it's simply who I am. It's not why I'm divorced; my ex and I are incompatible in ways that go far beyond gender. It's not a backlash against the Christian church I was raised in or its god; despite institutionally opposing my rights and well-being, the individual people in the church have never been anything but kind to me. And coming out isn't going to change my day-to-day life. I will still spend most of my time on MY gay agenda: work, kids, house, laundry, cooking, homework, soccer, and (VERY occasionally) dating.
Some of what I've written here sounds angry, and for good reason. Despite recent advances in LGBT equality (thanks, US military!), my own country still has laws against me, against my family, and against any relationship I may end up in. Most states in the US still allow gay people to be refused an apartment or a job - legally - for being gay. Religious groups still fight tooth-and-nail for the rights of their kids to make things worse for gay kids in public schools. Same-sex couples can serve in the military, but their spouses can't be covered by their health insurance. More than half the states have laws stopping same-sex parents from adopting children - even if one of the couple is the children's biological parent. Despite being HIV-negative, I can't give blood to the Red Cross. In some countries things are much better - Canada, Mexico, and most of Europe come to mind. In some countries, things are substantially worse: in places where my own company does business, I could go to prison for 14 to 20 years. And in some countries, gay people are simply executed. These things DO make me angry; these are terrible injustices that do no good at all for us as a society. I use my voting power to press our leaders to embrace the cause of equality, and I hope that those who know me and love my family will consider doing the same.
Happy Coming Out Day. :)