_r1l4100I came out when I was almost 17 years old.  I had met a girl and we decided to date.  When she would come over to my house to pick me up to hang out, my grandma would look at her funny.  She thought she was a guy and I never told her any different.  Eventually, she figured it out when she began to notice my new choice in friends and so I told my grandmother, and in my family, that’s really all it takes if you want everyone else to know.

Now I will say that my grandmother, who for the most part raised me was not pleased.  While she didn’t kick me out or disown me, she wasn’t jumping for joy either.  In fact, no one in my family was particularly pleased about my choice.  I think they thought that it was a phase and that like everything else I did, I’d grow out of it.

Over ten years later, I am still a lesbian.

My life has changed a lot over the past ten years, including my relationship with my family.

While I am still the topic of conversation at family gatherings and on long distance phone calls, my grandmother is still here and loving me, even though she’s asked me several times to change my last name now that I am writer and an activist afraid her friends will find out.  I just laugh and say, “not a chance.”

My grandfather, a stout Baptist, still never misses a chance to quote a scripture from the Bible to me about homosexuality.  I just smile and say, “I love you and I’ll see you later granddaddy.”

My mom and dad are okay about it.  They’ve never really given me any grief about it.  That right was reserved for my grandparents.

The biggest fear that Black parents had for their young daughters was of them having a baby as a teenager and dropping out of high school, of which I did neither.

Instead, I went on to fight for what I believed in, often times taking the road less traveled and using unconventional methods.  In time, my family came to respect me for what I had accomplished in my life and even though it’s still uncomfortable at family gatherings sometimes, for the most part, everything is ok between me and my family.

I told that story because people often say to me they wish they could be out like I am, and I tell them that they can.  It all depends on if you want to be out.

There are very few families, especially in Black America, where being gay is ok.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to live our lives in the closet either.

My family didn’t embrace me as a lesbian in the beginning, but they respected the choices that I made in life, especially in terms of my activism and speaking out about the social and political injustices that lesbians and gays experienced.  This is not to say that you have to be an activist to win your family’s admiration, but that if you live your life with integrity regardless of whom you love, more often than not, people will come around, or at least deal with it in order to be a part of your life.

More of us need to be empowered to be all of who we are all of the time.  There are too many of us that I know who sneak out to the gay nightclubs and live their life in fear because they are afraid of being outed.

Life shouldn’t be that way, but it will never change if you don’t feel empowered enough to know that it will be alright.

I believe that key to winning the fight for civil rights for gays in the Black community is for our families to see us for all of who we are.  To remind our families that we are a part of them and that when they discriminate against gays, they discriminate against their own.

Well it that theory doesn’t work when there are so many of us still trapped in the closet.

I will never forget the weight that was lifted off me when I just accepted who I was and decided to live my life for me and not what other people wanted me to be.  Even though I knew that my family was hurt by my decision to be with women, what prevailed in the end was their unconditional love for me regardless of me being a lesbian.

What I am trying to say to all of the people reading this article, who are still in the closet, is that you have been dressing for years and it’s high time you came out of the closet.

Sure, your family may be disappointed, even upset with you.  But the relief that you will feel once that weight is lifted, well, let’s just say there’s nothing like it.  Besides there’s a community of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people out there who were once just like you and are waiting to welcome you with open arms.  I know because I am one of them.