It was the hardest letter I ever had to write. And it sat in a drawer at my house for nearly a decade.
I write this letter because I want you to know fully who I am. There is a big part of me that you and I have never discussed. I’m the same son you’ve always known and loved but this part of my life we’ve never discussed — I am gay.
It is important to me that you know the complete me. Yes I’ve been gay my entire life. Because of societal pressures and in part due to my southern roots I ran from my identity. But finally, a few years ago, I came to terms with who I am. I am out at work, with my friends, and now my family.
I had forgotten the letter completely — handwritten on a legal pad, with cross-outs and rewrites intact — until I was packing up my house for a move in 2012. I was moving because I was taking a new job as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, and I was scrambling to get from Los Angeles to Washington to start that new life. But the letter stopped me cold.
I want you to know that I am the happiest that I’ve ever been. I’ve been dating someone for about a year now. I hope you will meet him some day. I am no longer lying to myself, my family and my friends.
Dad I don’t know how you will react to this letter but just know that I love you very much. I would love to have you more included in my life and I feel that there has been some distance between us and it is my hope that my honesty about who I am will help bring us closer.
Growing up in Arkansas, I looked up to my dad and wanted him to be proud of me. He was a traditional Southern man — believed in God, loved to hunt and fish. During our conversations when I was an adult, his care and love showed through in the way we talked about his latest catch or about how I was doing at work.
But I still I worried that he couldn’t handle the full truth about me. That kind of worry — about whether a parent could find something about a son too horrible to love — is corrosive.
I came out to my mom when I was 27, at her home in Hot Springs, Ark. (my parents separated when I was in elementary school). I’ll never forget how nervous I was, sitting on the edge of her bed as I told her. And I’ll never forget her perfect response as she hugged me: “I knew you would tell me when you were ready. Did you think I would love you any less?”
I kept hoping to have that same exchange with my dad. But as the years passed, it just never seemed like the right time. Eventually I made up my mind that telling him in a letter just made more sense.
I am the same son you’ve always known and loved — I hope that you’ll love me just the same now....
I don’t know if this letter will take you by surprise… I’ll leave it in your hands now… feel free to call or write me if you want to discuss or ask questions.
I love you very much.
My dad passed away almost exactly four years ago — 10 years after I first started writing that letter. I wish I could say I just forgot to send it. But the fact is, I never had the courage.
Saturday is National Coming Out Day. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans all across this country, coming out is one of the hardest things they will ever do. No matter what state you call home, a conservative church or community or even your own family can inadvertently force you to suffer in silence. Even today, living openly in the face of that pressure can require almost superhuman personal strength.
And yet showing that courage is essential — in fact it is the only way the LGBT community has made progress. Coming out doesn’t simply boost an LGBT person’s well-being and self-esteem, it plays an active role in changing the world. Today, 8 in 10 Americans say they personally know an LGBT person. This plays a direct role in the growing political support for equality. After all, once you know LGBT people as your neighbors, your children, your shopkeepers, coworkers, teachers and friends, it becomes almost impossible to oppose their legal equality and basic human dignity.
Even at this moment of historic victories for LGBT equality, we can never forget that progress isn’t just about what the Supreme Court says in a ruling. As Americans — and especially as allies — we’ve each got a personal responsibility to change this country person by person, neighbor by neighbor, family by family, kind word by kind word.
If you feel that you’re not presently living as openly as you could, consider changing that on Saturday. And if someone close to you chooses Saturday — or any other day — to honor you by revealing the truth about his or her life, know what courage it took to do so and offer every reassurance and affirmation you can.
For me personally, I go to work every day to make sure nobody ever again has to fear sending an honest letter to a loved one the way I did.
Chad Griffin is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization
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