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Coming out takes courage

May 06, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

After coming to terms with their sexuality, many homosexuals opt to open up to their friends and family, an act that takes courage.

[cont. from lifestyle]

By "coming out," as the process is called, men and women risk a negative response from those whose love and friendship is important to them. But they also open themselves up to the possibility that their relationships will be stronger after sharing their souls.

"It's a little easier to be gay now. We talk about it a lot more than we did before," says the Rev. Robert Griffin, pastor of New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown, which he says is open to homosexuals, heterosexuals and families.

Still, some people interviewed for this story agreed to talk about their experiences, but didn't want their real names used for fear of jeopardizing their careers or putting their families in an awkward situation.

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Griffin, 31, of Montgomery Village, Md., says he knew from the time he was about 14 that he was different. When he was 21, he was engaged to a woman whom he finally came out to. He says she handled it well.

For David Koontz, the decision to come out was made in his mid-20s. His partner had moved in with him and he also was becoming more vocal politically.

"It seemed silly not to, even though it was difficult," says Koontz, 35, of Frederick, Md.

Koontz, who has run for Washington County Commissioner, U.S. House of Representatives and for the Democratic nomination to Maryland House of Delegates, says his family and friends were very supportive.

"I was more freaked out about it than they were," he says. "It takes a lot of courage. In a lot of instances, it is a shock."

One man, who wished only to be known by his middle name, William, never formally came out to his family.

He met his partner of 27 years at a meeting of Dignity, a national group that promotes the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics in the church. They have gay and "straight" friends and both of their families accept them as a couple, says William, 62, of Hagerstown.

"We didn't have to say anything," William says. "I've been very fortunate. I've been very blessed."

Still a stigma

When he was 14, Koontz says rumors began to spread throughout his church that he was gay. His mother was told that being gay was wrong and that she needed to get help for her son.

Those in the process of coming out will meet others who have taken the risk and have been disowned, Koontz says. That makes the prospect of telling people even more daunting.

"The stigma is still there," Koontz says.

He says he has had a hard time keeping people involved in his political action committee, Western Maryland Gay and Lesbian Justice Campaign, because they're concerned about being openly gay.

Meanwhile, Griffin noted that television programs are adding gay characters, but he's concerned about their portrayal.

In "Will and Grace," for instance, Will, a gay man, is often the one the audience is supposed to laugh at. Griffin worries that may make people believe it's OK to make fun of gay people.

"We're not any different than anyone else," Griffin says.

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