How I Navigated My Coming Out Process

For those of us who are LGBTQ, we have almost certainly experienced some form of isolation, rejection, or tepid acceptance. This reality is simply a part of our story; but what I have come to learn in the past 18 months is that we all have beautiful, heart-breaking stories of truth.

My story is really no different. 

What I do know, however, is that I can tell my story because so many of you paved the way for truth telling for the common good. Thank you. I do not have your scar tissue; but your courage has inspired me. 

You see, I came out at age 55. It’s never easy. But, when you get to be my age—a few grey hairs, crow’s feet, and a few knocks—you develop the hutzpah. A little wisdom, over time, and a lot of grace does make a difference.

I’d like to believe I came out with dignity and authenticity. Like many of you, it was a process. But, I do leadership development, consulting, and coaching for a living. So, I felt the responsibility to also be a leader as I made this life changing decision, and then to inform my family, friends, and colleagues. 

Let me be clear, I am out and proud. 

I told everyone. I didn’t grandstand. But, I chose to have a “plan” with who I would call (and in what order) versus who I would inform versus who I would email—and, of course, how I would tell them. 

I’d like to believe I was thoughtful and sensitive? I knew some of my audience would be welcoming, and others would be questioning. But, fortunately I had the innate care and the developed skill-set, as a leader and as a member of the human family, to be honest and honorable. We each have a way. I’m simply sharing mine.

Oh, and as some of this readership knows, when I came out, I also left 25 years of ordained priesthood with the Roman Catholic Church. 

I actually loved ministry. 

Service and faith, and a love of God, are important to me still. But, like many of you know or have harshly experienced, there are many faith traditions that do not welcome or have respect for those of us who are LGBTQ.

In my tradition, this would have been true for me, and not acceptable. In other words, I could no longer, with integrity, teach leadership development and serve as a coach consultant for pastors and bishops within the Church if I knew, generally speaking, they would not accept me as a priest who would choose to come out and still want to remain a public figure doing ministry and leadership.

This unfortunate reality left me with only one choice; and, I chose to come out and leave at the same time. And, before I did come out, I sought professional help, and engaged in some coaching to help me work through and validate the “how” and the “when” both interpersonally and professionally.

Of course, I already knew the “why.” 

I am a proud gay man who embraces his identity with a clarity that is absolutely liberating and thrilling at the same time.

So, here I am in Mid-town Atlanta with a man I love, Cesar Mendoza, and with friendships we have developed and cherish. Has there been an adjustment period? Yes

Has it always been easy? No. Do I wrestle with some family that don’t accept me or talk to me? Yes. Am I the happiest and most fulfilled I have been in my life? Yes. Has God been forever present to me and for me? Yes.

As much as I hope all of us in our community are in a very good place with our selves, our relationships, and our professions, I would venture to say that some of us are still working through “stuff.” Quite frankly, who isn’t? But, for those of us who are LGBTQ we know a different kind of “stuff.”

Navigating how we proceed, how much to share, when we do this, and who to inform can be tricky. 

These decisions require some form of self-leadership and a flexible plan for self-confidence and care. What I want to encourage us, as LGBTQ people, is to feel confident and some times courageous enough to reach out for help and guidance when we experience doubt, fear, shame, lack of acceptance, or uncertainty—personally or professionally. 

There are tremendous resources where I live in Atlanta. Check out Gayborhood, the Gay Community Yellow Pages, the Gay & Lesbian Chambers of Commerce, a mental health professional, an inclusive Church, a leadership coach, or a friend who is in a good place, etc.

As we come into our own as proud LGBTQ persons, and as our innate dignity becomes more and more respected, as it should be—normative as well as beautiful—let’s choose to exercise the kind of self-leadership that models health and wholeness, as well as our love and acceptance for all persons different from us. 

In truth, we are all different, valued, and good.

Photo via flickr: Raúl Villalón

Comments (4)

Wonderful profession of your faith and your life. I admire you for your courage. One thing I remember during my time in the seminary as a second career vocation is that you are an ordained minister, and will always be an ordained minister, and a great man, friend, and husband. Thanks for the encouraging words of wisdom.

As a person raised RC, I am wondering if you felt that you were treated second-class in the RC Church or that you would have been. Priests are supposed to be celibate no matter their preferences--I am assuming it was not that so much as it was the idea that you'd be sort of second-class, sort of love the sinner, hate the sin. Compared to other branches of Christianity, RC is at least a C-minus, but who wants that when you can get an A-plus. The ECUSA is a bit better in some churches, but not all churches, and forget it if you are blind, they don't know how to reach out. They like to reach out to homeless people or the poor of other countries, but they forget some groups right under their noses!! Much success with your journey and do consider the ECUSA where you'd be accepted! Unfortunately, Orthodox is worse than the RC. Some Protestant branches are okay, reconciling Methodist is okay and the Lutheeran branch that is in accord with the ECUSA people. Disciples of Christ I think are okay and Unitarian.

My story is very similar. I came out at age 57, having been married for 30 years and having seven children. I am also an ordained permanent Deacon (23 years at the time). In addition I was an elementary school principal. I am still a practicing Catholic and attend church regularly although not able to function as a deacon. I loved my ministry and continue to try and help others as I can.

i agree with what you said . I have been seeing more and more churches denominations becoming Affirming , meaning they accept the LGBT community , especially gays & lesbians. . That is a start that I hope continues as the bashing that has been against gays throughout my lifetime has been bad.

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