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Hilary Hodge: My coming out story

I was 27 years old and it was just over a year into my first marriage.

I married my college sweetheart, a man I met when I was 18. He was kind, smart, handsome and supportive. We laughed all the time and we were truly best friends. We had a very happy marriage, which is why it was so painful for both of us when I came out as a lesbian.

It was an autumn evening when I told him. We sat down on the couch in the home we had bought the year before, in a living room we completely remodeled together with our own hands. I told him who I was. We hugged and cried.

Growing up, I didn't have very many role models who could help me understand who I was. We didn't have comprehensive sex education in school and the idea of being LGBTQ was not mentioned or talked about.

Perpetuating the narrative that people can choose their sexual orientation is damaging to individuals and families.

One of the most difficult experiences in my life was trying to figure out how to rectify my same-sex attraction in the context of my own Christian beliefs. I grew up in a rural Methodist Church, singing every Sunday while my mother played piano. I loved my church and my church family. I was 12 when our pastor was excommunicated because she was a lesbian. Even though I didn't yet understand who I was, felt betrayed by all of the messages of "loving thy neighbor" I had received. It felt like hypocrisy.

I was 17 years old when Ellen DeGeneres famously came out on national television. The backlash to career and personal attacks that followed were not lost on me.

There are still many people who are teaching others that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a choice or a lifestyle decision. According to the American Psychological Association, "the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence. These patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction may arise without any prior sexual experience."

I had spent my adolescence and young adulthood being attracted to women. I had dated women and while those relationships were meaningful to me, they were often brushed aside as curiosity or a phase. An important mentor in my life told me that if I could choose to be straight I should do so because it would make my life so much easier.

I was 27 years old and married to a wonderful man before I realized that I could not "choose to be straight." We divorced, both of us heartbroken.

Perpetuating the narrative that people can choose their sexual orientation is damaging to individuals and families. By framing the conversation in the context of choice, it opens the conversation to condemnation, sin, and denial; if a person can choose their orientation than they can choose to change it.

Families may use this idea to validate estrangement from LGBT family members. LGBT individuals may use this idea to validate self-harm. Communities may use the same principals to refuse services to LGBT people. Parents feel vindicated when choosing to excommunicate their LGBT children because, in their minds, those gay children are refusing to change, rather than having the inability to do so.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, nearly half of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT, even though they make up just 10 percent of the population. "LGBT persons face social stigma, discrimination, and often rejection by their families, which adds to the physical and mental strains/challenges that all homelessness persons must struggle with," notes Homelessness.org.

Additionally, LGBT youth have higher rates of suicide and suicide attempts. According to the Centers for Disease Control, "A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7-12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers." If we thought about homosexuality as something to understand rather than something to condemn we might be able to change these terrible statistics.

We have more resources and more role models today than we did when I was growing up but the rates of suicide and displacement for LGBTQ youth remain terribly high. We still have a lot of work to do around the conversations we have with our LGTBQ community members and the messages they are receiving from their families, communities, and society.

Today, my ex-husband and I remain friends. We are both happily remarried to the right people. I was lucky to have a supportive network of family and friends, people who accept me and love me for who I am.

Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at hhodgewriter@gmail.com.