The Eric Factor: The lessons I’ve learned and the message to parents of gay kids

October 11th isn’t an extraordinary day. For most, it probably doesn’t compare to yesterday being “Hug a Drummer Day” and tomorrow’s “Pulled Pork Day.”

While holidays happen the same every year, “Coming Out Day” doesn’t. That’s because it only happens once. For women, men, girls, and boys to be true to themselves for the first time: that’s the time. And let me tell you from experience, it’s no easy task.

Why? Because we have to.

As we grow into adults, we are taught that society sees one way as being normal. Fitting into that expectation is an uphill battle. Ask any kid who grows up in a family with a strong faith and it can be even harder. For me, I grew up with faith and went to a Catholic school from grade 1 through 12. Even though church doctrine has been very slow to adapt to change, I am thankful that I learned the lesson of empathy and caring….that you do unto others as you’d have done to you. Even more important than that, I was incredibly lucky to have a family with tons of unconditional love. Oh! And I also had nice, loving friends to stand by me when I needed it. One of those people, I lost to cancer before I could thank him.

Coming out was still the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I cry thinking of the people who feel that they absolutely can’t.

When do you know? For me, there was always something that made me special from the rest. It probably sunk in sometime in middle school, although college was when I understood that sexuality shouldn’t be  suppressed, based on what people think is “normal.” Today’s kids are forced to grow up quicker, so it probably occurs sooner. But I like to think we are in a better place than we used to be.

It’s easy to realize your different but it’s almost impossible to find out why it happened to you.

And that’s where a lot of LGBTQ kids give up.

According to The Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people aged 10 to 24. LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at nearly three times the rate of heterosexual youth. LGBTQ youth are five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. Should I continue? In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of those reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. Each episode of LGBTQ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or bullying, increases the likelihood of an LGBTQ person giving up.

But why is it that I sometimes hear homophobic slurs? Why is it that a local business owner felt he had the right to use a homophobic slur during a celebration of pride? Why was a local gender-fluid teen tortured and murdered?

Those didn’t happen somewhere else. Those didn’t even happen years ago.

That’s why coming out is so terrifying for people and why it takes years and years of self-identifying. There is a giant leap of faith you make when you become 100% honest with yourself and everyone else. And it’s definitely not about being the center of attention or putting your sexuality in other people’s faces, it’s about being genuine to yourself.

I salute everyone who has gone before me for having so much courage.
I salute those who are at the beginning of living their true, honest lives today.
I salute the people who understand the value of being an ally and friend. Support is the most valuable thing you can give to an LGBTQ person.

And if I can give a message to the parents of kids who come out? Just love them.

Every day, I give thanks for the way I was made, I wouldn’t change it for anything, and if it weren’t for the colorful people in this world, we’d live in a very dull place.

Peace on this “coming out day” and every day.

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen