08/31/2010 02:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Come Out for Yourself - Stay Out for Others

Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) in the United States is a difficult choice. It takes recognized American virtues of courage, sheer will, and determination, but it is an act of self-interest simply by how personal, delicate, and private it is. Being LGBT is an ingredient of who you are. Coming out is not. It is something you do. You do it for you. It is done for the greater good, yet so much of that choice is grounded in the doctrinaire or laissez-faire traditions of what came before: your family, your friends, your community, your career.

According to popular culture and media, coming out is straightforward and effortless. You realize on Monday. Tell your parents, family, and friends on Tuesday. You have more friends that share your orientation on Wednesday. You find a significant other on Thursday. You get a promotion at work on Friday. You are in a committed relationship on Saturday. Sunday, all of your life has fallen into place and you are at ease. But reality is different, as LGBT self-sufficiency is very much a threat against the normative expectations of many American communities.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless, many teenagers who come out face pervasive hostility, estrangement, and homelessness, LGBT people of color even more so - 44.7 percent of LGBT youth of color report verbal harassment because of both their sexual orientation and race/ethnicity. Their 2006 report states that 26 percent of LGBT youth who come out to their parents are told to leave home. LGBT youth make up 20 percent to 40 percent of all homeless youth in the United States, says the report, and many experience abuse both from family members and in shelters. The silver lining to these hard-won fights is visibility. Visibility and comprehension directly oppose much of America's warped view of the LGBT community. It is much harder to dismiss, condemn, and label as the other that what is familiar and right in front of you. It is harder to marginalize your child, your sister, your best friend, your coworker, your football coach, your son's teacher, your minister's kid, your favorite writer, your pop idol, your elected official, your 9/11 hero, and your everyday owners of broad American family values making their way through life. That is why we come out, and are relieved to do so.

As the LGBT community continues its march, along with every other historically subjugated group, to unify with the inner circle of America, there is more than visibility that must be undertaken. In this new century, that action should be turning our visibility, our autonomy, and our self-respect into altruism to become a part of the larger human family, regardless of class, race, gender, or religion. We in the LGBT community have not been very vocal about issues that affect everybody, including ourselves. We have not communicated just how socially responsible we are, and how much we are concerned about the broad spectrum of issues that we all must care about. When we mobilize for others outside of our self-regard, championing or doing the groundwork for social justice, human rights, and a progressive society, we help defeat the opposition who believe we only fight on a self-centered platform. In this way, we become part of the entire story of humanity, resisting the urge to limit ourselves to what we perceive as just our own narrative.

Once you come out, you change and grow, and so does everyone else around you -- and it is important to work for the issues that affect you day to day. With the same American virtues of courage, sheer will, determination, and hard-won, can-do spirit it takes to come out, it is more compelling and empowering that our next step be to invest in the gravest problems: universal health care, climate change, clean energy, clean water, food security, human trafficking, worldwide gender inequality and violence, oil depletion, extreme poverty and the wealth gap, the global HIV/AIDS crisis, and early childhood education. We mobilize for marriage equality, military service, adoption, work-place discrimination, and hate-crimes protection with a resolute force, and we can use that same energy and determination to influence change for other marginalized individuals around our world.

We cannot indulge in the oppression olympics, ranking cruelty and persecution, and we must have perspective. We live in a country that finally is allowing us to live with pride, dignity, and ever-increasing freedom, and we must never forget those who are not as fortunate as we are. Every 45 seconds, a child in Africa dies from malaria, according to the World Health Organization. Since the early part of the last decade, the number of people enduring hunger has risen by 60 million, according to the World Food Programme, and today, an overwhelming 852 million people around our world experience the agony of hunger. There are 1.1 billion people, or 18 percent of our world's population, who lack access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF; about 2.6 billion people, or 42 percent of the total, lack access to basic sanitation, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Globally, 774 million adults lack basic literacy skills, according to the United States Agency for International Development; some 64 percent of them are women, a share effectively unchanged since the early part of the last decade. As we fight to stand tall, we must not forget those that remain even more pushed down. Now, we stand with them. Our solidarity is with one and all.

The world's worst social ills require all of our attention. Just as some prioritize their Second Amendment rights over health care or marriage equality, there never will be a unified nation if we, for example, prioritize marriage equality over ending torture. At the end of the day, all of this is what we fight for: a more open society, a more free and equal democracy. For us and everyone. The noticeable insularity of LGBT activism and the perceived parochialism of the LGBT community must reach beyond what we have done. We must do more. And this is how we enter a post-LGBT existence that leaves no one behind and makes us full in the hearts of ourselves and in the eyes of all and sundry. We need more of us in the frontlines and out in the trenches changing the staggering, shocking statistics that haunt us in the developed world, but devastate those of us on the far reaches of our planet.

Do. Rise. Engage, volunteer, organize, act, serve, give back, tutor a child, be a role model to a teen, plant a garden, think of others and act in their name, help yourself and others reach their full potential. Public service and altruism for the betterment of all of us are the only and truest answers to all ills of our world.