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October 11, 2008

Local guest column: On national day, come out, come out, wherever you are

By Jim Koury

Saturday is National Coming Out Day, an internationally observed civil awareness day for coming out and for discussion about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and questioning issues.

It is observed on Oct. 11 each year by LGBTQ individuals and friends. The day was founded by Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary in 1988, in celebration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights one year earlier, when 500,000 people marched on the Capitol for gay and lesbian equality.

As an LGBTQ individual, I look back upon my past and remember many National Coming Out Days passing with a promise to myself that the following year, I would be among the ranks of the millions of other LGBTQ individuals who took that bold step and broke out of their closets.

It took a number of broken promises and many more years of hiding, lying and being someone I was not before I decided to kick the door of my closet wide open. Not only did I knock open the door, I ripped the door frame right off the wall, never to be replaced. That was 11 years ago, and I have no regrets whatsoever.

What is life like being in the closet? I often recite a quote that epitomizes the life I and many others led and still lead in the closet. It is as follows: "The torment of human frustration, whatever its immediate cause, is the knowledge that the self is in prison, its vital life force leaking away in wasteful self-conflict."

I have always personally related to this quote. I was living a lie, two lives, which frustrated and angered me to no end. I felt like I was in prison, not by my own doing but because of a society that dictates to us who we should be and how we should act. I was wasting my life, my inherent potential, my vital life force, on worry.

I was hiding myself, telling lies and trying to remember to whom I told what. Wasteful self-conflict is what being in the closet is all about. It is not what we are supposed to focus on in life.

So, for those of you in the closet, still living lives of quiet desperation, I write this guest editorial for you. Its purpose is to help you find the courage and support you need to be yourselves and to tell you that there is hope for you. Never give up your dream of being able to be who you really are, because you can be everything you want to be and more as an openly LGBTQ individual.

On this National Coming Out Day, I must again ask why some still dwell on a person's sexual orientation and insist it is a chosen "lifestyle." One's sexual orientation is not a choice. It is as natural as having blue eyes, brown hair, being tall or having a big nose. It is genetic.

Our creator made us the way we are for a reason, and that reason cannot be discovered if we allow bigots and homophobes to continually tell us that we are sinners, that we are abnormal or need counseling, or by the grace of God can be converted to heterosexuality.

How many heterosexuals think they made a choice to be who they are? To the bigots and homophobes I say, enough is enough!

I shall stand up to you at every opportunity. To all my LGBTQ brethren I say, "Come out, come out wherever you are" and demand that your individuality be returned to you! Take it back!

Stop conforming to what society says you should be, and live your lives as you were meant to live them, as open, proud LGBTQ individuals.

There are some who say it is not refreshing to see LGBTQ individuals obtain all the rights and privileges that are accorded to the straight community _ or to see people happy that someone they know took that big step and accepted who they truly are and publicly pronounced it.

There are also some who say, "I have gay friends, I have black friends or I have Asian friends, etc. etc., so I am not prejudiced."

The sad fact is that these people are showing their deep-seated prejudice, however innocent the comment may be.

When one is straight and grows up in a straight environment, gets married, has kids and lives that all-around "happy" straight way of life, one also loses sight of the fact that there are those that cannot experience what they are legally able to _ due to someone else's preconceived notion of how one ought to act, what religious beliefs one should adhere to and how society dictates one's life's paradigm.

They do not experience the prejudice and bigotry, so they have no idea how hurtful and painful it is to be denied the same rights accorded to everyone else simply because of one's sexual orientation. I cringe when I hear one justify their self-perceived acceptance of everyone else and yet support the denial of equal rights to those who don't conform to their simplistic worldviews.

To those in the closet I offer this to you:

Resist these simplistic worldviews and stand up and confront these people when they outwardly justify their insecurities by denying equality for those who are different. Resist the claims that you are a sinner. Resist attempts to make you conform. Resist the claims that being LGBTQ is sinful and you need to change.

Most importantly, resist your own insecurities and fears, and come out of your musty closet and see the light of day. It is one of the most liberating and refreshing feelings to know you are finally living life, your life and not what someone else thinks you should live.

Always look forward to the life you can ultimately achieve and envision. To do anything less is to die before your time, yet still be alive, walking individuals in a fabricated life that does not represent the true essence of one's inherent individuality.

Essentially, take charge of your destiny!

However, your destiny cannot unfold before you until you have found your true you. I, as well as many others, am here to help you with your journey forward out of the closets in which many of you are still living. I encourage you to make this year's National Coming Out Day your freedom day _ the day you took charge of who you really are and began to outwardly manifest that true persona.

Make it the day you cast off your fabricated facade that you have so carefully constructed for so many years. Come out, come out, wherever you are. It really isn't all that bad out here in the sunshine of one's true life.

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Jim Koury is an Oneonta native and the editor/founder of Diversity Rules Magazine.