Finding Unexpected Warmth After Coming Out

Thursday is National Coming Out Day. That's when many LGBT people celebrate the day they came out about their sexual orientation, and encourage others. Host Michel Martin hears from one woman, Keli Pia-Miller, who explains the difficulty of coming out, and how it taught her just how much she loved her family — and how much they loved her.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Switching gears now, today is National Coming Out Day. That's an event launched by lesbian, gay and transgender people around the world to celebrate the day that they came out and to encourage others to do the same.

It can be a difficult moment for everybody involved, but it can end happily. Take this recent ad from the travel agency website, Expedia. It depicts a father struggling to accept his daughter's marriage to another woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You have to make a decision. Are you going to have a daughter that you are going to maintain a very wonderful relationship for the rest of your life, or are you going to lose that child?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This was a situation that I had to come to understand.

MARTIN: Now, you might have seen this ad and thought, well, that's just a made up story. Those are actors. They are not and neither is the person we're about to speak with. We thought it would be interesting to hear some of your coming out stories, so we reached out on Facebook. We received many touching, funny and fascinating stories. We picked just one. Here's Keli Pia-Miller. She's a social worker in Ithaca, New York.

Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

KELI PIA-MILLER: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So could we go back to the beginning? Your family is from Salt Lake City, Utah. Correct?

PIA-MILLER: Yes.

MARTIN: And you grew up...

PIA-MILLER: Yes.

MARTIN: ...in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormon church. Do you remember what you heard about sexuality, about homosexuality, in particular, when you were growing up?

PIA-MILLER: I don't - I don't remember hearing things in specific about that. There was a lot of talk about chastity, importance of marriage between a man and a woman and thinking about the relationship of having a wedding and a marriage in the temple and creating a family that was holy.

MARTIN: So there really didn't - wasn't a lot of space to think about, you know, same-sex attraction?

PIA-MILLER: I don't remember ever thinking about it or hearing about it, really, when I was younger.

MARTIN: And, in fact, you told us that it took you a long time to realize you were gay.

PIA-MILLER: Yeah. I think that it wasn't until later in high school and college that I thought, this might be a problem for me. And so I thought it was something that would go away eventually, but it didn't.

MARTIN: Do you remember, what was the moment that made you have this realization for yourself?

PIA-MILLER: That made me realize that I was a lesbian?

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah. Was there like a eureka moment?

PIA-MILLER: No. I think that it was just a pattern over time that I kind of thought, I like this girl. And then it happened more and more and, when I really thought about how my life would be and the person that I would want to spend my life with, it didn't fit what I was told it should fit from a young age, that temple marriage. And that's when I realized, this is something I have to deal with.

MARTIN: What made you finally decide to come out to your family?

PIA-MILLER: My partner and I, at the time, were planning a commitment ceremony and life for me was moving forward. I was working. I had friends and I went on a vacation with my parents. I think that we went on a family cruise with some extended family and my immediate family and I realized during those days that I was with them that there was so little that I could talk about. There was so much I was hiding, not just about the person that I loved, but you know, the things that I was interested in, my friends. You know, I felt very silent and I thought, I'm not in a real relationship with my parents. We're kind of doing this thing that's pretend and that didn't feel fair to them.

MARTIN: You were lying to them, basically...

PIA-MILLER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...about the totality of your life?

PIA-MILLER: Yes, yes. And I had created a situation, moving so far away from them, that that was very easy for a long time to keep them strangers.

MARTIN: How did you finally tell them?

PIA-MILLER: I sent them a letter after that vacation.

MARTIN: How did they respond?

PIA-MILLER: Their response was positive, but sad. And I think that, you know, my expectation by that point, you know - it really was - I was feeling like I have to be at a place where I'm OK, that they could choose to walk away from me and I would have support.

So, when I sent them the letter, I thought, there's a good chance that I might never hear from them again. And they called. I remember sitting on the floor of the bathroom, talking to my dad on the phone and I couldn't believe that he could call and say that he loved me.

MARTIN: What are you feeling now when you think about that?

PIA-MILLER: Mostly that I think that I doubted them for reasons I don't understand. My parents love me no matter what and they've shown me that by their response and it hasn't been all easy. There have times and things that they've said or misunderstandings. You know, it hasn't just been - I came out and things are great. There was lots of tears and disagreements and times that I think we all had to take space.

But we get to share my children. We get to share plans for the future. We get to share disappointments when things haven't worked out for me. I can tell them all the parts of me and that's something that I am so grateful that they didn't miss out on and that I finally was able to say to them who I was.

MARTIN: Well, thank you so much for sharing that.

PIA-MILLER: Thank you.

MARTIN: How are things with them now?

PIA-MILLER: Very good. We don't get to see each other often enough, but we travel together. They're very fabulous grandparents to my children and I'm going to see them for Thanksgiving with my kids, so I'm very excited about that.

MARTIN: Well, Happy Thanksgiving to the entire Pia-Miller clan, extending family...

PIA-MILLER: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...and clan. Thank you so much. And you can argue about the stuff that everybody else argues about, which is whether to...

PIA-MILLER: Yes.

MARTIN: ...watch football or the parade.

PIA-MILLER: Exactly.

MARTIN: That was Keli Pia-Miller. She joined us from Ithaca, New York. Thanks so much for joining us.

PIA-MILLER: Thank you.

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