When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to write a book compiling people’s coming out stories. It seemed an auspicious time to be gay; Ellen had recently graced the cover of Time, Will & Grace was a new hit show and I had just graduated from my relatively conservative suburban high school as the only openly gay kid and had lived to tell the tale. Sure, George W. won the Oval Office as a “compassionate conservative” while backing a ton of state-level anti-gay marriage initiatives and the Republican party in general continued to frame my sexuality as being at the top of a very slippery slope which inevitably ended in beastiality, but the long arc of history seemed to be bending like a rainbow towards justice and it felt like a only matter of time before we’d look back on the notion of “coming out” as hilariously quaint.
Like snap bracelets or the scunchie, we’d all shake our heads with disbelief at how foolish we had been, forcing people to live in closets, afraid of being disowned by friends and family or suffering physical harm for simply being truthful about who we were. My book of coming out stories would serve as a time capsule for what life was like before the dawn of reason and understanding swept the Western world. Because when I was older, surely no one would assume kids to be straight, instead allowing them to find their own path and when I was really old — like in my mid-30s — we’d probably have a gay president, dancing with their same-sex spouse at the inaugural ball.
Last month, I got a voicemail from a straight friend asking me to return his call as soon as I could because he needed some advice. When I called him on my way home, he told me a coworker had confided in him after recently coming out to his family. It had not gone well. His mom called him a faggot and left the house, and members of his extended family were threatening to come by and hurt him. In 2018. In California. He was understandably terrified, and my friend was looking for resources and reassurance he had said the right things in what clearly was an incredibly fragile moment. After hanging up, I pulled my car over and wept.
I’m in my mid-30s now, and instead of watching a happy gay couple ascend to the highest office in the land, I’ve watched the current administration nominate federal judges who are hostile to LGBT issues, argue the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect gay Americans, try to ban trans service members from our military and refuse to even acknowledge Pride Month, again.
Despite all this, I remain hopeful. Both Ellen and Will & Grace are back on TV and while we still have a long way to go, a majority of Americans have made great strides. But this month, as we celebrate Pride and your social media streams are filled with rainbow flags and body glitter, know that our work is far from finished. So let’s all try and connect with someone new or reach out to our coworkers or talk to our kids so that one day, when they’re super old and in their mid-30s, they might get to vote for our first gay president.