(c) Mary Griggs

Coming out is an intensely private act made public. It is a process that might start with just telling one person and, once you realize that they still loved and accepted you, might have gone on to include everyone else in your life.

Some people are bullied for their sexual orientation before they even know themselves what the words gay and lesbian mean. The It Gets Better Project was set up to help those who are suffering in hostile environments to learn that circumstances can change and time can heal. The collection of videos from people who have come out, survived and thrived are incredibly powerful to watch.

Every person who comes out makes it better for the next person. A 2007 Pew study found that as more LGBT people come out of the closet, the more accepting their friends and relatives are. In fact, people who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage and they are also significantly less likely to favor allowing schools to fire gay teachers than are those with little or no personal contact with gays, the poll found.

As Harvey Milk so famously said in his speech on Gay Freedom Day on June 25, 1978:

Gay brothers and sisters… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”

“That’s What America Is”

Those youngsters he spoke of are still struggling today. They need positive examples of healthy and whole LGBTQ persons. Role models may be family members, movie stars or musicians and they may even be athletes.

It can be incredibly empowering for a young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person who has taken refuge in athletics to see someone in their sport who is also honest and open about their sexual orientation.

The Olympic games were held this year and the number of openly gay and lesbian athletes at the London Summer Games was the highest ever. There were 23 openly gay and lesbian London Olympians, plus two coaches. There are also two gay Paralympians. This compares with 11 in Athens and 10 in Beijing,

In even bigger sports news, Puerto Rican featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz came out. Cruz is the first openly gay man in boxing history.

“I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and, as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself,” said Cruz. “I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”

What might be even more important than finding positive LGBT role models in sports, especially in an election year, is having candidates on the ballot who bring the same honesty and openness to their campaigning.

This year, we will see the first openly bisexual candidate, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and, hopefully, our first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

In the House, eight openly LGBT candidates are running as major-party nominees for the House of Representatives. Two are incumbents who are favored in their races (Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island) and there is even one gay Republican in the group, Richard Tisei of Massachusetts.

“People know that bigotry is bad politics,” said Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who is trying to oust one-term Republican Nan Hayworth from New York’s 18th District in the Hudson Valley. Maloney went on to say, “There is a real power in being yourself. When you’re not afraid, when you live your life with honesty and integrity, it makes you a better parent, a better colleague, a better friend and a better candidate.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!