In every part of the world, coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) is a difficult choice -- so delicately personal and private, while also fearlessly public and declarative. It takes not only sheer courage, strength and determination but a deeper understanding of your sense of self, of your values and of the importance of building space for yourself in society. Being LGBT is an ingredient of who you are. Coming out is not. It is something you do. You do it for you. Its meaning is for yourself and the greater good. Yet so much of that choice to come out is grounded in the homophobic and heterosexist traditions of what came before: your family, your friends, your community, your career.
According to much of the first-world popular culture and media, the process of coming out is effortlessly straightforward and fluid. 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 from general public opinion, as LGBT self-sufficiency is very much still a threat against the normative expectations of many communities worldwide. The silver lining to these hard-won fights is visibility. Visibility and comprehension directly oppose much of our world'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 sports coach, your son's teacher, your religious leader's kid, your favorite writer, your pop idol, your elected official, your 9/11 hero and your everyday owners of broad family values making their way through life. That is why we should come out, and we are relieved to do so.
Once out, life begins anew. We all make the culture and society. We make what comes next. The future is heading toward only one functional direction: interconnected and interdependent, which demands fewer mosaics and creeds of Western individualism, but more melting pots and unified togetherness. The future is one global LGBT community for all -- no boxes, no borders, no tribes, no hierarchies.
In many cultures around our world, there are words that speak to shared sacrifice and linked fate. Ubuntu is a humanist philosophy of Bantu origin that means, "I am what I am because of who we all are." Mitakuye Oyasin, meaning "all are related," is a Lakota Sioux prayer that reflects a tradition and belief system of interconnectedness. Before Namaste became associated with western Yoga, it was a common, spoken greeting originating from the Indian subcontinent. Namaste means, "The spirit in me respects the spirit in you," or, "The divinity in me bows to the divinity in you." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pity in the metaphysical sense, is the greatest human emotion. It is the ability to truly feel empathy for someone, not out of a sense of condescension, but out of a realization of our shared plight. What you are, we were. What we are, you will be.
As all members of the LGBT community continue our march to unify with the inner circle of humanity, there is more than visibility that must be undertaken through shared principles and actions. In this new century, that action should be turning our visibility, our autonomy and our self-respect into inclusion and altruism to become a part of the larger human family, regardless of geography, class, race, gender or religion. Like E. M. Forster said in Howards End, "only connect."
We in the LGBT community are becoming very vocal about issues that affect everybody, including us. More than ever before, we are communicating 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 our own self-regard, and when we champion or lay the groundwork for social justice, human rights and a progressive society, we help defeat the opposition who believe we only fight, live and breathe in isolation. 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 world-centric virtues of courage, sheer will, determination and hard-won, can-do spirit it takes to come out, it becomes 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 must use that same energy and determination to influence change for our interconnected humanity around our world. As we fight to stand tall, we must not forget those who remain beyond progress' reach. Now, we stand with them. Our solidarity is with one and all.
Our world's worst social ills require all of our attention, and there never will be a unified Earth if we prioritize ourselves over another. At the end of the day, all of this is what we fight for: a more open society, a more free and equal culture. For us and everyone. We all 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. We still need more of us in the front lines 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 who never will see this article.
Do. Rise. Engage, volunteer, organize, act, serve, give back, plant a garden, tutor a child, be a role model to a teen, embrace all your LGBT brothers and sisters, think of others with compassion and empathy and act in their name, help yourself and others with love and grace to reach their full potential. Inclusion, public service, and altruism for the betterment of all of us are the only and truest answers to all ills of our world.