Greater NW Pride: Honoring National Coming Out Day


In Honoring National Coming Out Day

October 11, 2018, is National Coming Out Day. There are no fireworks, no special foods, no special songs, no public proclamation honoring this day. There are just a lot of stories told by countless people who identify as LGBTQ about the act of coming out to ourselves, our families, our friends, our wives, our husbands, our siblings, our children, our friends, our business friends, our social gathering friends, our churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues. And there are as many versions to the story of coming out as there are people who came out. 
As one who had to navigate the unsure pathway of coming out, there was no book written, manual given, pamphlet passed out to those of us who are LGBTQ to figure out what we do when we want to “come out” of our invisible but very real closets. Coming out of the closet is a rather modern concept, which started in the 1960s, in which one chooses to come out of hiding or hiding who one is in order to come out or away from this kind of existence to living openly and out. 
While I tentatively came out in 1996 to a few friends and family members, it wasn’t until 1999 that I was more or less out, by choice as well as to stop some of the drama that was going on around my life as others in my professional world were secretly outing and blackballing me. While I was encouraged by those who were already out to come out, there were others among my straight friends and family members who strongly suggested I stay in my closet for a while longer. As one who is called to be a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which was not accepting of out LGBTQ people as ordained leaders in those days, let alone touching marriage, I knew that coming out of the closet could mean the end of my career and vocation as an ordained clergy person. Both my jobs as a teacher and preacher would be gone were I to come out of the closet. And as a parent responsible for raising two young children, the stakes seemed high.
Why did I come out? Because living in my big gay closet meant certain early death: death of a career; death of a rich spiritual life; death of sense of self-respect; death of sex; death of relationships; and a physical toll on my very body as I kept the stress of being gay and living in the closet hidden.  While my physical body would linger a little bit more, my internal life was wasting away quickly. What pushed me out was a culmination of events, including falling in love with a man; discovering that my marriage was broken; and the movement of the Spirit, in which I kept reading Ps. 139:13-14, that God made me just as I am, and I am wonderfully made, just as I am. The last thing I wanted to hear from God is the question: why didn’t you accept yourself, just as I made you? In early 1999, I moved from the house I shared with my wife and children into my own space. A few friends were with me, day and night and even early morning, receiving phone calls from me and walking with me in the shadowy unknown in those days. For their friendship, I will be eternally thankful. As for the Church? The PCUSA only held out the promise that I would be disciplined for being honest with myself and God about who I am, and most likely censured and rebuked, if not defrocked.
The reality is this: there are still LGBTQ+ people in their closets, not only in the PCUSA and UMC, but in other Christian denominations and communities, as well as non-faith communities, of course. LGBTQ+ in closets abound, still. While our greater society is more or less accepting of LGBTQ+ people, there are many people who cannot make the break with the LGBTQ closet for fear of being ostracized socially, lose a job, a home, and those we love. My prayer this day is threefold: prayers for those who had the courage and patience to walk out of the closet and are able to openly celebrate National Coming Out Day. Second, a prayer for strength for those of us who are out of our respective closets to tear the closet down, again, when it pops up around us.  Through teaching and telling our stories, those closets disappear, but it is a never ending task. And third, a prayer for those LGBTQ+ people who are caught in the embrace of the closet, and can’t figure out or discern how to get out, yet.  Prayers for a day when a pathway appears open, and that you take it, with the support and encouragement to join us all on this pilgrim path to wholeness. Amen.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!