As many members of the LGBT community celebrated National Coming Out Day this month, it is important for us to take a moment to remember that not everyone who comes out has the luxury of receiving a safe, let alone accepting, reaction. While thousands of people across the country used this day as a platform to stand up and announce who they are as people, thousands of others live in fear that if they had shown as much as a hint of enthusiasm about the day, they would have been ridiculed, abused, or even disowned by their peers, friends, or families. For some people, the closet is the safest place.
I came out to my family when I was a freshman in college. I was fortunate enough to have parents and siblings who said, "Okay. We had a feeling. We love you," and let it be. My extended family has been incredibly accepting as well, choosing not to think of me as "that gay relative," but instead as their cousin, niece, or granddaughter. My family continues to be a huge source of love and support as I work through my junior year of college and begin to take the first baby steps of my career. They have chosen over and over again to be proud of who I am, and I could never thank them enough for allowing me the kind of life where I can be unafraid.
When I came out to my family, I asked my parents if they could be the ones to tell my extended family. A few days later, I received a Facebook message from one of my uncles. Among other things, he said to me, "I have some pretty basic spiritual beliefs. I feel that we come here to grow, evolve, and express who we really are on a soul level. Hayley, a fully expressed being is the most beautiful thing in the world..."
When I think about my experiences with the Born This Way Foundation, I always come back to the idea that beauty is in full expression of self. I think about the foundation's mission of creating a more accepting society, a safer community, and a braver world, and what it would mean for youth expression if that mission were to be achieved on not only local levels, but on a national, or even global level.
I have always said that you can ask me on any given day what I think the meaning of life is, and my response will always be the same: love. Imagine a world of youth growing up in environments that are filled with love, compassion, and acceptance for people from all walks of life. Imagine the beautiful, fully expressed beings that our youth could be and how they would thrive. Imagine the power to make a difference that they would feel, and imagine what they could do with that power.