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What Every Straight Person Should Know About Their Gay Friends

If you think your are an ally for your gay friends and family, there’s probably a great deal you don’t know about their lives. I encourage you to read on…

Today is “National Coming Out Day” — a day when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people let their truth be known. On this day, we gay folk are supposed to tell heterosexual people like you that we are of the LGBT variety.

For more than a decade now, my friends and family have known that I am gay and each year it becomes harder and harder to think of someone who might not know that I play for the other team. So, instead I use “National Coming Out Day” as an opportunity to spread awareness about some alarming facts even our fiercest gay allies may not know about.I grew up in California and I’ve known that I’m gay since I was about 12 years old. It took years to find the courage to come out and tell people that simple fact. Unless you’ve been there yourself it may be hard to imagine the intense fear associated with the prospect of telling people this “secret.”

What if my family disowns me? What if I lose my job? What if my friends abandon me? What if someone attacks me simply because of who I am? These aren’t fleeting thoughts for gay men and women living in the closet. They are persistent, pervasive, and powerful.

I’ve been completely open about who I am for more than a decade now. My parents still love me. My friends have stuck with me. The jobs I’ve had in these years since coming out treat their gay employees with equality and respect. I’m lucky in that regard, for many people that is not the case. The freedom I now feel is amazing but that freedom is also limited.

Some facts you may find surprising:

  • Gay people like me can enter into a loving, legally and equally recognized relationship in only 29 states and DC — though that number is growing every week.
  • Gay people like me can be fired in 29 states based simply on who they love and not the quality of their work. On that score, the number of states sanctioning discrimination is even worse (32) for transgender people.
  • Stable, law abiding same-sex couples in 27 states are forbidden from jointly adopting children and denied the right to adopt the sons and daughters of their partner in 26 states.
  • Students who identify as, or are perceived to be LGBT remain vulnerable to state-sanctioned discrimination by their teachers and public schools in 38 states while 32 members of our “more perfect union” have no statewide programs protecting them from bullying.
  • When it comes to renting a home, people like me can be denied a lease simply for being gay in 29 states and again, the numbers are even worse (32 states) for the transgender community.
  • While hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid are currently barred from denying visitation to same-sex partners as a result of a mandate issued by the President, 18 states have no laws guaranteeing such simple human dignity should the edict be rescinded by a future President.

According to polls, most straight people don’t even believe the numbers outlined above. They are shocked to learn such legal discrimination against LGBT still exists given how far we’ve come toward securing marriage equality for committed same-sex couples. See, there’s so much more to being LGBT than getting married. While it is amazing to see the progress that has been made, there are still so many basic freedoms gay people don’t enjoy. More people need to know about it if we are ever going to change this sad truth.

None of the progress made in recent years would have been possible without the support of people like you — straight people who love their LGBT friends and family. So, on this “National Coming Out Day” won’t you consider “coming out” for the rights and dignity of your LGBT friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, email, and at the water cooler?

It has been 15 years since Ellen Degeneres came out on national television and while our culture has moved miles towards LGBT acceptance and inclusion, our laws have moved mere inches. With your help we can cross the finish line.

You can watch my “It Gets Better” video or read my old-school “coming out story” as printed in The Advocate years ago. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and “like” me on Facebook.

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