"My good friend and a good friend to all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Judy Shepard, has written this posting for National Coming Out Day. I hope you take a moment today, and every day, to put Judy's advice into action."
Eight years ago this week, I lost my son, Matthew, to a hate crime. The violence, ignorance and misunderstanding that led to his death are the exact reasons that National Coming Out Day, which is celebrated each year on Oct. 11, is so important.
This year, the Coming Out Day observance is particularly poignant in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. Some members of the media, along with anti-gay pundits on the radical right, have been trying to blur the lines between Foley's repugnant behavior and his sexual orientation -- which are two very different things.
That is why it is crucial that this year, all of us, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, take a moment to think about who GLBT Americans really are, and the things we all have in common.
For the last eight years, I have traveled the nation continuously telling my family's story, and trying to encourage honest, respectful dialogue on gay issues. On the topic of coming out, and living openly, there are a few things that I always try to impress upon people.
First, let's be clear -- being gay or straight is no more a choice than being right- or left-handed. It is simply a matter of how each of us is born.
Anyone who has ever witnessed loved ones coming out -- struggling to find the words to say, wondering if they will be rejected by their most cherished friends or family simply for being who they are -- knows that even in 2006 America, being open and honest about being gay is still difficult, and at times all-too-dangerous.
Coming out and being open is an act of bravery and honesty. That's something that any mother, friend or family member can and should be proud of.
It is hard enough in this world for gay people to come out, and be open about who they are. It becomes even more difficult and daunting during times when gay people are publicly slandered for political gain, which is what the ultra-right has tried to do time and again during election years.
The bottom line is that families are more whole, friendships are more substantial and nations are stronger when we are all able to stand together in spite of our differences and because of our similarities.
Please, whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, take some time today to talk to some of the people in your life about why openness, fairness, respect and compassion are important to you.
In fact, if you are having trouble starting that important conversation luckily the Human Rights Campaign has partnered with Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to release a new resource: "A Straight Guide to GLBT Americans." The guide walks straight people through the typical emotional responses people go through when a friend or family member has just come out, outlines myths and facts about GLBT Americans, and highlights ways that they can show support for equality. You can get your hands on this valuable new tool by going to: www.hrc.org or www.pflag.org.
Coming Out Day isn't just about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. It is about all Americans who want to create a more just and fair country for future generations.
Matthew Shepard Foundation