It’s Courageous to Be LGBTQ and in the Closet, Too

As an affirming student pastor, I have been given a profound gift.

For decades, hundreds of people (many of them in their teens and early twenties) have entrusted me with a truth they often felt they could not reveal anywhere else: the revelation of their identity and the orientation of their hearts. It has been a truth often delivered through a shaking voice and a trembling body and a flood of tears.

Most of the time I have known their families, I’ve known the faith they were raised in, I’ve known the schools they’ve attended and the friends surrounding them and the churches where they’ve worshipped. Because of that, I’ve understood why they were in the closet: because the closet was a shield, a precious line of defense against the taunts and threats and bruises they would sustain were they to step outside of it. The closet was a place where safety came at the price of their silence, and that was a transaction they felt they needed to make.

Sometimes young people shared their stories with me because they wanted someone to help them begin to share that story with their families and friends; to walk with them on the terrifying journey out of the closet. We would talk about specific people in their lives and work through the very specific hows and whens of revealing this news. We would rehearse conversations or arrange meetings or craft letters, all to make the coming-out process as devoid of turbulence as we could make it.

But more often, these middle school, high school, and college-aged students, simply needed one human being in whose presence they felt safe, so that they could continue living with a secret that for any number of reasons, they were not yet able or ready to reveal, and I was honored to be that person. Many of them have since come out to the world, or perhaps to a select few. Others are still living in the closet, five or ten or 15 years later, and though I grieve that because I wish for them the exhale of being able to be fully themselves around everyone all the time—I do not respect them any less because they haven’t yet felt ready to expose their hearts to the world in that way.

On Pride month, we who strive to be allies and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community loudly celebrate human beings who step out into their truest truths, and we should. It is a personal act of unthinkable courage to be a publicly authentic human being when doing so exposes you to such cruelty and ignorance, when it is so emotionally and physically treacherous.

But it is a no-less courageous act to live partially-concealed, when the people you most need to be protected by feel the most dangerous to you; when the circumstances of your life do not allow you the option of physical separation or financial independence— or simply when your emotional reserves do not feel sufficient to sustain the responses that may come as a result. That doesn’t make you less strong or less brave or less honorable, it simply makes you not yet ready. That is not a character flaw or a moral failing, it is simply part of your authentic journey right now. Feeling obligated to share what you are not prepared to share is as much an unfair burden as being forced to be silent. You get to be ready when you are ready.

To my LGBTQ+ friends who have made the difficult decision to walk the rest of this journey with your truth fully exposed, I am so in awe of your strength and your courage, and I do celebrate you because you are so worthy of that celebration. You deserve to be received and loved without caveat or condition.

But to my LGBTQ+ friends currently in the closet, I want you to know that I see you there; that I know there is nothing you’d want more than to not have to couch every conversation or alter your words or manage your social media or conceal your honest feelings. I know that you too, want to be fully seen and fully known—but that now is not the right time for you. That makes you no less strong or courageous or worthy of celebration.

Whether you need another few days or a couple of months or several years, know that I am in your corner, I am for you, and that I and so many others—are so very proud of you.