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Why Coming Out Still Matters: Gay Staffer Reflects on 10 Years of Changes | Commentary

“Mom, I’m gay.”

Almost exactly 10 years ago to the day, I uttered those words to my mother for the first time. She immediately began to cry.

I still remember that chilly fall day like it was yesterday, even though it was a decade ago.

After months of personal anguish, I finally summoned the courage to sit down with my mother to tell her the truth about who I was. Looking back now, I think she knew all along what I was about to tell her. She was my mom after all, someone who had cared for me since the day I was born, and she, like most mothers, had an innate sense about her children.

But that didn’t make my conversation any easier. We ended up crying together, and she wasn’t immediately supportive. Later on in life, she would tell me that her immediate reaction was out of fear — fear of what my sexual orientation meant for my future, my career and my safety.

Her concerns were valid; at the time, equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans were opposed by a majority of people, and only one state recognized marriage equality.

Just a decade later, the progress made for LGBT rights has been profound. From this year’s historic Supreme Court ruling to all-time public support for equal rights, many believe the battle for LGBT rights is over.

We’ve made important progress, but there is still so much more to do. Too many LGBT Americans continue to endure violence, encounter discrimination and face the prospect of homelessness. No one should have to live in fear, at home or in the workplace, afraid to be open and true about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That’s why, even in 2015, coming out still matters.

Recently, we celebrated National Coming Out Day, a time for LGBT Americans to celebrate their identity and who they are. For some, it was the first time they told someone they were LGBT. And as difficult as that first conversation may have been, their courage to come out makes an incredible difference.

When people know someone who is LGBT, they are far more likely to support equality. Twenty years ago, when more discriminatory laws were on the books, far fewer people said they personally knew a member of the LGBT community. Today, 9 in 10 Americans say they know someone who is gay. Every coming out story has made a difference.

For those who work on Capitol Hill, coming out arguably can have a greater impact. Having LGBT staffers openly walking the halls of Congress and being seen in offices could have a real effect on the lawmakers who make our nation’s laws.

Coming out is — and always will be — a deeply personal and difficult decision. Each person has to decide how and when to come out, and who to tell first, including in the workplace.

But coming out still matters. And if you’re on Capitol Hill, you don’t have to do it alone.

That’s where the LGBT Congressional Staff Association comes in. We’re a nonpartisan organization on Capitol Hill whose mission is to create a welcoming environment for the LGBT community.

More than 100 members strong, we put on a variety of events each month — speaker series, networking and professional development events, happy hours — to bring people together, both on and off the Hill. Just like Congress, we’re a diverse group that represents a diverse range of political opinions.

Simply put, we’re a supportive organization for LGBT staffers. We’re always looking for new members. And for those who aren’t gay, but want to be supportive, we love to have supportive allies join us too.

Personally, I’m incredibly lucky; today, my parents, friends and my boss are all supportive of me being gay. My mom’s initial fears — for me, my future and my safety — were thankfully proven untrue.

Today, I’m also incredibly fortunate to lead a staff association made up of amazing members that every day seeks to make it easier for LGBT Hill staffers to find a sense of community on Capitol Hill.

If you’re LGBT — publicly out or not — and want a safe space, look no further than the LGBT Congressional Staff Association. We’re here for you, and we’re here to help make it a little easier for the next person to come out and be true to who they are.

Mitchell Rivard is the president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association and works as deputy chief of staff and communications director to Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

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