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