Updated: Oct 4
Twenty-five years ago today I got up earlier than usual, and put on my red boys’ polo sweater, my favorite button-fly Guess jeans that were a size too big, and my heavy tweed car coat, before heading out the door. Snow was already falling in a whirlwind and it was bitter cold. It had rained a little the night before, so there was a thin layer of ice on our driveway.
My mom followed me out to the garage with a thermal mug of coffee to drink on the way. Of course she told me to be careful on the roads, because that’s what mothers do, but she didn’t even suggest that I reschedule the appointment. I think she sensed how important it was to me.
And yet she didn’t have any idea that it would mark the first time I had ever told anyone I was gay.
But that’s what I did twenty-five years ago today. I came out for the very first time in my life, at the age of 35.
Nobody takes pictures on the day you come out. Especially back in 1996. But this picture of me was taken about six months after I came out, when I spent the summer of 1997 in Washington, D.C., interning for congressman Charlie Stenholm.
It occurred to me driving on the ice that it would be so easy to just veer off the road, go through the guard rails and down into the ravine, hoping the car would just roll over and over and that I wouldn’t survive that tumble. Then I would never have to acknowledge that I was attracted to women. Never have to hurt and embarrass my family. Never have to experience the deep shame – deeper than I had already felt for years – of coming out to friends.
Oh my goodness, how I wish I had known back then how unnecessary those feelings of shame were. How I wish I could have back all the energy I expended keeping my sexuality a secret, believing if anyone knew the real me – my authentic self – that I would surely be abandoned. That no relationship I had would ever be the same, if it survived at all. I was petrified of anyone finding out. But my misery was so great, here I was now, on the road to revealing the secret. I gripped the steering wheel even tighter, contemplating whether I should even try to keep the car on the icy road.
Over the last fifteen years I’ve often shared the story of what kept me on the road that day. The voice of Amy Grant singing “Breath of Heaven” on her latest Christmas album. I rewound and rewound that song, over and over, as those words sunk down into my soul.
“Breath of heaven,
Hold me together.
Be forever near me,
Lighten my darkness,
Pour over me your holiness,
Breath of heaven.”
Chris Eaton/Amy Grant
As I’ve shared countless times, God did hold me together. God gave me the strength to say what I needed to say that day. At the time it never entered my mind that I would tell anyone about that day. I had vowed to carry the secret of my sexuality to my grave. But over the next few months and years it became more apparent, more urgent, that I was being called to share my story with anyone who would listen. Especially in places that hadn’t yet opened this conversation.
And that’s how CenterPeace began to take root in my heart. Because I felt for those who had gone before me, having no place to talk freely, to be their authentic selves, and continue to nurture their faith in the churches that helped raise them. And I felt for parents, who like mine, were the leaders in their churches and yet, had nobody they could really open up to, to help them understand, love, and support their LGBTQ children.
If you’d told me when I first came out on December 16, 1996, that twenty-five years later my life’s work would be sharing what I viewed as my deepest, darkest secret, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But over time, I came to know this was my calling, with everything I had previously done preparing me “for such a time as this.”
Within the first year of coming out, I remember standing in the parking lot of the counselor’s office, praying that the taxi would show up in time to get me back to Love Field so that I wouldn’t miss my flight back to Lubbock. I promised myself then that I would do whatever it took to create safe space for the kids who would come out after me. That I would help families and church leaders learn better ways to respond. That I would make it easier for generations behind me to come out and to stay connected
To their families,
To their churches,
And twenty-five years later, I remain even more committed to keeping those promises.