MICHEL MARTIN, host: That historic vote at the U.N. last week happened to come during LGBT Pride month, which is acknowledged in the U.S. As part of our recognition of the month, we've been hearing from guests and friends of the program who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender about how they chose to talk about their sexual orientation with those closest to them - family, friends and coworkers. These are their coming out stories.
Today we hear from Kai Wright, editor of Colorlines.com. That's a daily news site about racial justice issues.
KAI WRIGHT: I figured there were a few ways I could come out to my family. There was the apologetic route - sorry, I know this is hard for you, but. There was the casual, minimizing approach - oh, by the way, I'm gay, whatever. It's not a big thing. And then, of course, there was the self-righteous indignation - I'm here, I'm queer, and you should just deal with it. I went with self-righteous.
I began with a combative letter to my father, an unnecessarily hostile missive that has been mercifully lost to history. His response has, however, survived. My father, - a hyper-educated man who loathed being caught off his intellectual guard - met my indignation with a torrent of, well, really useful information. He advised me to read James Baldwin's novel, "Just Above My Head."
It's the only book, dad wrote, I have ever bothered to read which depicts gay love in the same way that heterosexual love is depicted. He told me to learn more than the obvious on sexual health. He was, after all, a doctor. Education is very good about HIV, he said, but poor about hepatitis.
But most usefully, dad articulated a perspective that continues to define my out, proud sexual identity today. My first reaction, he wrote, was to treat this like when you said you wanted to be a running back in the NFL, but you are grown now and your decisions are more long lasting. Remember, being gay is a part of who you are, not what you are or even what you do. He was drawing an important distinction there, one I'm not even sure he understood.
A popular rejoinder to homophobes today is to assert that being gay is not a choice, that we are born this way, as Lady Gaga tells us. I disagree. The most important part about being gay is precisely the part that we choose: to stand up and own who we are, proudly.
Again, my father put it best: I have no knowledge or understanding of what being gay is about, he wrote, but I do believe the best life is the honest life. The honest life. That's ultimately what coming out is about, too. It's not about apologizing to everybody for the hassle of sexual politics or minimizing our differences from the mainstream or even getting annoyed that all of this is necessary in the first place. It's about being honest with ourselves, first and foremost. If we all make that choice, everything else will follow.
My father was already greatly ill when he wrote that letter, and he has since passed. I had moved away from home, and was enmeshed in the terribly consuming business of creating an independent post-college life. So we never talked much more about our letter exchange. I regret that deeply today, because I never got to thank the old man for showing me how to be gay.
MARTIN: That was Kai Wright, the editor of Colorlines.com, on coming out.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.