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Coming Out Day Celebrates A Lifelong Process

11/10/2015 8:23 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Today is Coming Out Day, an opportunity to celebrate the importance of pride and reflect on my own personal journey with sexuality.

I was 12 when I realised I was gay. It was a pretty frightening thing at the time. I didn't know any gay people or have any sense of what a gay life might be like so my impressions were largely shaped by the caricatures I saw on TV.

For many years at primary school other kids used to joke that they thought I was gay, well before I had even thought about it. That experience always lead me to believe that being gay was not really something a man should aspire to be.

I didn't meet any LGBTI people until I was at uni and didn't start coming out until I was in my early twenties. I say 'start coming out' because, of course, as any same-sex attracted person will tell you, coming out isn't simply a one off event. It's really a life-long thing, as we still live in a society that still largely assumes people are straight. The coming out process involves a series of disclosures in lots of different contexts.

I was fortunate in that my family and friends were supportive and talking about it really strengthened a lot of personal relationships because I felt like I was finally being my authentic self. It was a big weight off my shoulders.

Even though my teenage years weren't exactly a 'walk in the park', I wouldn't change my sexuality for anything. I like the fact that it allows me to look at the world a little differently. Indeed, I think those feelings of isolation when I was growing up really lead me to progressive politics.

It provided some level of insight into other forms of discrimination and a sense that we need to look beyond existing power structures and try to change things. More fundamentally, it's a big part of who I am and I wouldn't want to change that either.

People often talk about us living in a post-identity era and things like differences in sexuality are becoming a lot less relevant than they once were. There's no doubt about that and that's a wonderful thing. But that didn't happen by accident. It's a result of the pride movement. Activists fighting for our rights, people talking openly about their sexuality and giving strength to others to do the same.

Despite the positive social changes we've seen in recent years, dealing with sexuality is still a challenging thing for lots of young people today. You can't be what you can't see and I think it is still important to talk about differences in sexuality to break down those feelings of isolation so many LGBTI people feel growing up.

That visibility is also a crucial weapon in the fight against homophobia, for it's harder to marginalise and denigrate a group that is open in full view. It's harder to discriminate against a group that's made up of your friends, family and colleagues.

Coming Out Day is a chance to celebrate the achievements of the LGBTI movement. A lot has been achieved but we still have some way to go before we achieve a world without discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Talking about difference and celebrating that, too, is a big part of the journey.

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Robert Simms is an Australian Greens Senator for South Australia and the party's LGBTI Spokesperson.

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