A lot of us grew up in a time or place where being gay was not OK. Maybe you were raised in a repressively religious household, or in a small, socially conservative town. Or maybe you grew up in a large city, but 30 years too soon for urban acceptance of LGBT identities.
Regardless of when or where or how you came out, those of us who are anything other than straight and cisgender have had to struggle with the very core of our being, our sense of self, and how our inward identity translates to our place in society and how we fit in -- or don't. Even a teenager coming out to same-sex parents in San Francisco in 2013 has to contend with a number of variables, from family and friends to teachers, employers and passersby. Every new encounter raises a host of questions and concerns: Do they know? Do I tell them? Will they be OK with it? Will coming out cost me my job [or friend, gym, vacation, etc.]?
Some of our LGBT brothers and sisters have endured rejection after rejection from family, friends and communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others have been lucky to find themselves surrounded by open-minded loved ones who are accepting regardless of whom we love (or sleep with) and how we present ourselves to the world.
All of us have had influences that have guided us to where we are today. Maybe it's that beacon of light from a teacher, your best friend's sibling, even an author or a character on TV, who helped you realize that you are not alone, that you are not a freak of nature or confused about your authentic self. Maybe you have a cousin who is out but hasn't had the chance to talk with you about it, but his sheer existence carved the way for your coming out.
That still-too-large cohort of lingering homophobes harbors the ignorant belief that anyone who encourages LGBT youth to come out is somehow "recruiting" them. That's stupidity. Anyone who encourages someone to express himself or herself truly and wholly is to be commended, never condemned. Our adult allies, whether LGBT-identified or not, are the ambassadors who allow diversity to germinate and flourish, and who give hope to our LGBT youth.
I was lucky enough to have a host of supporting characters in my life who helped me through a time that was filled with uncertainty and vulnerability. A guidance counselor in high school was the first adult who told me that it was OK to be gay. I came out to her before I had come out to my parents or many of my friends, and I received the validation that I needed to trust my instincts and explore my emerging sense of self. A friend at school (OK, my then-crush) opened my mind to the larger LGBT framework (then just "L" and "G") and helped me realize that I was not alone but part of a vibrant and diverse community.
Who was your LGBT mentor? In the comments section below, share your story about the person or influence that encouraged you to come out and love yourself, and take the time to reach out and thank them for helping you be true to yourself.