The single-spaced two-page letter was arranged in a blue folder containing printed resources from the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD. Shaking with anxiety, I placed it on the foot of my mom’s bed. I didn’t stick around for her reaction and headed to a friend’s house to await the inevitable.

Now, I know what you are thinking. A letter might not have been the most fair but, for me, it was the easiest and most comfortable way to come out to my mom. I could say all I needed to without any interruptions or see the hurt in her eyes when I told her I wasn’t really her daughter.

Don’t worry, the ending to the scene above is a happy one. Through a lot of tears and some education, my mom eventually came around and accepted me as her son. It took time of course, the key word being "eventually." But I will say, I’m one of the lucky ones whose family now loves and accepts them. It hasn’t always been perfect or easy but it's better than some stories I've heard from friends and their families.

The rest of my coming out story is too long for a column, mostly because one never really stops coming out. There will be many people in your life to tell: family, friends, coworkers, allies, strangers, etc. It is a process that can last someone’s whole life if they choose to, but keep in mind they don't have to tell everyone.

I’ve learned you do have to be patient, with yourself and the people around you. Coming out, especially for the first time, can be one of the hardest and scariest things a person can do. It is deeply personal but necessary in order to live authentically. Yet being able to come out is a privilege not everyone has, whether for safety reasons or because they just aren’t ready.

The importance of getting this personal with you today is that it is National Coming Out Day. On Oct. 11, since 1987 when it was founded, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer-identifying people celebrate coming out and being proud, today being aimed at showing the public that LGBTQ people exist and are everywhere.

One of the founders of NCOD who died in 1995 of aids complications, Robert Eichsberg, said it perfectly: “Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”

In recent months, I’ve thought a lot about his words and what it means to be out as a transgender person in Montana. It isn’t the easiest place to be out, especially living in smaller rural areas, Montana being a red and conservative state with a federal representative who’s given money to gay conversion groups. But with more visibility, things could change. People are afraid of what they don’t understand or are simply uneducated about the matter. You do know someone LGBTQ, Montana, even if they aren’t out yet. We are your neighbors, family and friends.

Of course, I must mention the recent bathroom bill also known as Initiative 183. I’m sure you've heard of the attempts to limit my rights in the state of Montana. I cannot stress how much bills like these are bred out of fear and lack of understanding, as well as hate. It has and will impact LGBTQ Montanans when coming out. But in order to fight injustice, being out and heard is our strongest tool in the movement toward full equal human rights.

Declan Lawson is a transgender activist and freelance writer. He's a recent graduate of the University of Montana, where he double-majored in Journalism and English creative writing. 

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