Today marks the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, a day to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in their decision to reveal their sexual identity. For many, there’s a sense of freedom and pride with coming out. Yet, it can be a difficult experience for others. Marion Griffin was forced to come out when she was a student at Northern Arizona University. Today, she works at NAU’s Office of Inclusion, and shared her story with KNAU’s Aaron Granillo.
Aaron Granillo: So, everybody who comes out has their own unique story. Can you share yours?
Marian Griffin: Yea, absolutely. I came out my junior year of college here at Northern Arizona University. I was part of a group that was not very accepting of the LGBTQIA community, kind of more of a fundamental religious group. And, I was actually outed. And, when that happened I lost all my friends, which is interesting. A lot of times you see in the community families will disown students. But, for me it was kind of the opposite where I lost all my friends. When that happened I searched for my community, and kind of rebuilding what we call our chosen family. You know, those folks that end up being there for you and love you and support you no matter how you identify. So, that was really, really impactful for me.
The friends that disowned you, did you try to rekindle any of those relationships later on? Have any of them come around and accepted you for who you are?
Yeah, um, not really. I’ve had some people on social media, like, try to add me as friends, but no. When I was kind of cut off, I was cut off.
You didn’t have the option, on your own terms, to say here I am. This is who I am. What was it like to bottle that secret up for so many years and then to just have it exposed in one fell swoop?
Oh my gosh, it was wild. Like, one day I was in leadership at a church and ministry, and overnight, I no longer was. It was wild. But, bottling it up for all those years, honestly, was worse than coming out. The amount of depression, the amount of shame, disgust in yourself and frustration with yourself. Thinking something is wrong, thinking that you’re immoral, that you’re an abomination. You know, even to the point where you question if you should be alive because there’s something so wrong with you. But, it was the best decision I’d ever made. You know, what it’s done for me, for my self-confidence, and for the relationships that I have now are so much more genuine. So, yeah it was difficult, but coming out on the other side, I couldn’t imagine having a different life. No regrets.
So, part of your job now, you work obviously with LGBTQIA students. What are those conversations like, and specifically, the ones who are still in the closet? Talk about what they tell you.
Yeah, it’s interesting. What you do hear a lot of is family. For example, my family said if I come out they will no longer pay for college for me. It’s really sad. It’s sad that that’s fear, you know, of I’m here now and I am an adult and I’m seeking my education, and who I’m going to be. But, there’s still this tie, and sometimes financially. There’s still a lot of fear in coming out. So much, so much. We’ve got a lot more visibility for the LGBTQIA community, but a lot of misconceptions and a lot of opinions have not changed, which leads to a lot of fear about being disowned and about being harassed. You know, how my roommate is going to handle this? What do I tell my friends, you know? Kind of working through those tough questions.
We’re now 30-years into National Coming Out Day. Can you reflect on the significance of some of the people who came before you, and some of the sacrifices they made?
Oh my goodness. I mean just thinking about all the generations of people who have struggled to bring visibility, to bring awareness. You look at the fight for marriage equality, you light at the fight for equality for our transgender community members, and the fight over restrooms. You know, things like that. It takes so much bravery to speak up and say we are here and we deserve respect. I’m so indebted to those people because I am very blessed that I can be out at work. I can be out with my family. I can be out my friends. I go to restaurants with my partner, and that has not been the case for so, so, so long. And it’s still isn’t the case in a lot of places. But as the people who fought for those rights, who stood up that have made it so I can be out at work, So that I can be out in my life and I can be genuine. Yeah, I mean those are my heroes. Those are absolutely my heroes.
For those debating coming out -- everybody, again, has their own unique situation -- but is there an overarching message?
Goodness. Yeah, come out on your own terms, on your own timeline. This is a very personal process for everybody. Sometimes we think that coming out is kicking down this closet door to this rainbow bliss. And, that’s not how it always is. You can be out in some spaces and not out in others and that’s okay. This is about you and your personal process. So I think my thing would be, be brave, be thoughtful, and find your community. And, find people who are there to support you through this process. And, you know, hopefully one day the goal is we won’t have to have a coming out process, right? That we will just be born and be loved for the people that we are. But, for where we are right now, this is where we are.