MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

And now, the latest in our series of essays on coming out. As part of LGBT Pride Month, we've been hearing from guests and friends of the program who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender about the experience of disclosing their sexual orientation to their friends and loved ones.

Today, we hear from journalist Mary Buckheit.

MARY BUCKHEIT: Most people think of a person's coming out as one momentous day, or one unnerving phone call home, or one blurted sentence, even. But the truth is you come out a thousand times. You come out to your best friend and then to your sister, and then to your roommate and your priest and again to your co-workers and to your grandmother and your physician and your electrician and your cable guy.

First, I told my childhood best friend over Christmas break my sophomore year in college. We were sitting in a quiet Connecticut pub on a Tuesday night 10 years ago. She was telling me her colorful college escapades with handsome university swimmers and a skinny football player and two nice boys from Bergen County.

I didn't want her to stop talking. I didn't want it to be my turn. When the inevitable lull in the conversation came and the focus shifted to my side of the table, I tilted my wine glass back for one last swallow of courage and said, you know, what would you say if I told you I've actually been seeing someone?

I was certain she had no idea I had a girlfriend. How could she? She had no idea I was gay. At least I thought. Until she lowered her chin, looked me in the eyes and remarked, I'd probably say, how long have you been seeing her?

Sometimes we don't give people enough credit, like my grandmother. When discussing lady friends with the 90-year-old Italian, she explained her very pragmatic rationale for approval. Oh, I like lesbians. They cut my lawn real nice, she said, way better than that other guy I used to pay.

Sometimes people surprise you. And sometimes you really surprise people. When my mom found a note to my girlfriend in the wash, she alerted my sisters. My lesbian sister was certain mom's panic was erroneous, just a result of having a gay son and one gay daughter already. Surely mom was just being a little skittish. But mom was right.

I came out to much of my extended family, friends and the rest of the free world in a story I wrote as a columnist for ESPN.com. A basketball player had said he wouldn't want a gay teammate because he hates gay people. I knew I had to take a stand. My story prompted some 500-plus emails from strangers, most warmly detailing support for me and their gay loved ones.

I never did come out to my dad before he passed away suddenly when I was 22 years old. I adored my father. I lived for his approval. I often wonder if I ever would have told him. I just don't know how my father would have taken the news.

MARTIN: I lied. I broke my teammates' ear buds. I cheated on a calculus exam, and I'm gay. I started crying.

Father Dan, who also happened to be my World History professor, put his hand on my shoulder. He asked me if I was telling him that because I thought it was a sin. And then he quoted a Bible verse. Don't be afraid, he told me softly. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do you know what that means, Mary? God knows how many hairs are on your head! God knows everything about you. He created you. Don't be afraid.

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MARTIN: That was journalist Mary Buckheit describing her coming-out experience. If you'd like to read her ESPN piece about coming out, we'll have a link to it on our website. Just go to npr.org and select TELL ME MORE from the program page.

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