Pinellas residents talk about coming out of the closet listen10/12/11 Janelle Irwin
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Yesterday was National Coming Out Day. Members of the North Pinellas LGBT community shared their coming out stories at St. Paulâ€™s Lutheran Church in Clearwater last night. Some successful locals said things are getting better.
National Coming Out Day began in 1988 as a means to give LGBT individuals the courage to live a life of authenticity. R.P. Stanley is a Navy veteran and owner of a military memorabilia website. He said initiatives like the â€œIt Gets Better Campaignâ€ make being openly gay more acceptable than it once was.
â€œThere was no dancing, no holding hands, none of this stuff. In the parks, the bar - you go to the bar, you can go in the bar, but thereâ€™s no dancing â€“ I got put out once for dancing. So, now I think that some of the young people, they donâ€™t know what it was really like and they really need to be reminded. And Iâ€™m saying that to say this, there is a generational divide, always has been.â€
Brian Winfield is the communications director of Equality Florida, and began his adult life in a relationship with a woman. He described the moment he realized he was gay as feeling like a bolt of lightning. He said the media has played a role in fostering an environment that embraces alternative lifestyle choices.
â€œThe full repeal of â€œdonâ€™t ask donâ€™t tellâ€ occurred on September 20th, and just two days later we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the downfall of Floridaâ€™s infamous ban on, adoption ban that prevented gay and lesbian individuals from adopting in the state. So, that was a huge news cycle. We had editorials published in mainstream press and those kinds of stories happen on a regular basis.â€
Even though times have changed since the inception of Coming Out Day, many young people have a hard time taking that first step out of the closet. Tristan Byrnes came out twice; once as a lesbian and again as transgender. He said telling his parents was terrifying, but ultimately they just wanted him to be happy.
â€œI wrote them a letter. I wanted to put all my thoughts down on paper. I wanted them to accept it, to read it, to think about it and then respond. I was afraid of what that instant reaction would be. So, I mailed it and sat and freaked out for two days. And then I got an email. She didnâ€™t call me, my mom didnâ€™t call me, she emailed me. And she said, â€˜I got your letter, it makes complete senseâ€™. And I went, â€˜reallyâ€™? We talked later and I asked her, â€˜why does it make senseâ€™? And she said, â€˜well, because I always knew you werenâ€™t a lesbian, I just didnâ€™t know what it wasâ€™. And I said, â€˜well if you knew that, why didnâ€™t you tell meâ€™?â€
Byrnes is now a gender therapist and works to help those going through situations like the one he experienced. All of the speakers are in successful long-term relationships and Byrnes and his wife are seeking adoption. They say their stories show that strong families come in all shapes and sizes.