I first came out almost 30 years ago. I was 13, a freshman in high school, when I told a friend that I was bisexual. She seemed nonplussed, likely thinking this was just part of the artistic and rebellious image I was developing.
I never had a personal sense that being attracted to people of the same sex was wrong. Still, I hesitated before I told my friend. Many people considered homosexuality to be degenerate. In school “gay” was either whispered, like elderly people whispered “cancer,“ or barked as a slur. On the streets, America was in the throws of the AIDS epidemic. Gay people were dying, painfully and alone, while others publicly shouted, “they had it coming!” A government charged with protecting its citizens seemed to agree, doing nothing to stop the mounting suffering and loss.
At the time, coming out, even to someone I trusted, was scary. I didn’t trust my friend enough to be sure that she wouldn’t judge me — wouldn’t stop being my friend. I didn’t know if she would turn on me, would sic the rest of our peers on me in an effort to make sure no one thought she was anything other than straight. I considered keeping up the lie of omission that I had been living. I seriously thought about doing something wholly unloving: Being dishonest to the people closest to me – all because of social stigma.
I eventually realized that I am a gay woman. In the years that followed I grew more comfortable with myself. I started speaking my truth more and more. This is not to say I threw glitter on the rainbow, just that I did not shy away from the fact that I am gay. I’m grateful that for most people, my coming out has not been an issue.
The gay community has made social and political advancements that I could not have imagined when I was 13, but very real consequences to revealing that one is a lesbian, gay or bisexual American persist. Although I sometimes hesitate before telling someone, “I have a girlfriend,” I speak up, because I can, and because that is the only way we will ever create a world void of stigma associated with being gay.
Catherine E. Semcer is a member of B Stigma-Free’s Advisory Council. Her experience building bridges across divergent and sometimes opposing groups and expertise in the areas of marketing, branding, social media utilization and government relations are assets to our team. In addition to speaking her truth, Catherine is and an avid paddler, equestrian and yoga practitioner.