Reflections: Coming Out Stories 2014

In honor of National Coming Out Day 2014, AHP brings you our second round of annual stories from two of our very own. We celebrate the courage and honesty it takes for an individual to stand up, be themselves, and share their experiences. We hope you enjoy ours!

Perry Rhodes, III – Program Manager of HIV Counseling and Testing

perry rhodes iiiI could not imagine telling my family about my sexual orientation as a teenager, growing up in the Bible Belt of Dallas, Texas, in the 70’s. By the time I turned 18, I was living on my own, and thankfully, my views about telling my family had changed. Expecting the worst from my family, and having built up emotional defenses, I decided the best way to come out to them was to bring my newly minted boyfriend home to meet them. With boyfriend in tow, I braced for the reaction. My mother, Nellie Pearl, was not to be out done, and had invited “my friend” into the house and behaved like a perfect lady to both of us, as did my entire family. What I didn’t know is my mother had always suspected that I was gay and had confided in a gay colleague who suggested she join Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). PFLAG helped my mother with her feelings about me and she, in turn, spoke with my siblings and she urged my family to continue to love and respect me. So the “ Betty Davis” scene I had rehearsed in my mind never played out. Yes, there were times I had to educate my friends and family who needed help working through gay stereotypes, but for the most part, people were kind to me. I feel lucky. I’ve always been grateful to that gay man who listened to my mother and paved a smoother road for my coming out experience and I will never again underestimate the love that my family has for me.

Bart Shulman – Clinical Intern 

Bart Shulman

I came out to my parents at 18, in 1980. Unbeknownst to me, they had already known I was gay for about two years. I had a “master plan,” involving graduating from UCLA and moving to San Francisco first, to make sure that I was safe in the inevitable case that my parents kicked me out of the house. But one Saturday, I was in the back yard mowing the lawn, and all I can say is that some irresistible force moved me to cut the power to the mower, walk into my parents’ room, and tell them. “Mom, Dad, I love you both a lot. (Long pause). I love you both a lot. (Long pause). I’m gay.” My mother was the first to speak. “It’s OK” was all she said, and we had a bit of a cry. Then my father said “you still have to take out the trash on Thursdays,” and we all had a good laugh. It was only later, in the weeks and months that followed, that I found out that a close friend of my mother’s had come out to her as a lesbian some years before. And that my father, a civil rights attorney, had been representing gay men for many years, obtaining civilian security clearances from military contractors for his clients.

A few years later, I was performing “marriage” ceremonies for LGBT folks at a street fair in Los Angeles, in my capacity as chair of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Chapter of the ACLU. We knew there was no legal validity, but we got some news coverage. The idea that marriage would be legal in California in my lifetime was beyond my comprehension, but we decided to help folks “come out” to their friends and families about their desires to be married, and fully participate in the promise of equality.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a fundamental right for all people, and made marriage equality the law of the state. In the time between that decision and the nightmare of Proposition 8, I married my husband Russ. We wanted the smallest, most modest wedding we could manage, but I have a large, supportive family. Russ grew up in a central Kansas Mennonite community, and while his immediate family was wonderfully supportive, some of the cousins weren’t really down for the whole concept of “same-sex marriage.” But Russ and I attend First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, and the local congregation is phenomenally supportive. While the Mennonite denomination is clearly, vocally, opposed to marriage between two men, the local church demanded that their pastor marry us. Our “small wedding” immediately grew to include this beautiful community, and on National Coming Out Day in 2008, we were married in the meadow of the AIDS Memorial Grove, with 225 of our friends and family surrounding us. Getting married on Coming Out Day was just a coincidence, but the symbolism was not lost on us. Today, I flinch at the term “same-sex marriage,” because it puts a qualifier on someone’s marriage – as if every time a couple refers to themselves as married, there’s an asterisk by the term. Russ and I were not “same-sex married,” we were married. We love and embrace our friends who choose paths other than marriage. For us, marriage was the right choice. But it’s not marriage-with-an-asterisk, it’s marriage.