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An invisible population is denied its right to be ordinary

I am invisible. I am your friend. I am your neighbor. I am your boss, your secretary, your teacher, your mechanic, your golf buddy. I sit next to you in church, stand behind you in the Publix express lane, ride in your car pool, bump into you in aerobics class. I am your child. You see me every day, but you do not recognize me. I am gay. If you know 10 people, you probably know one homosexual. That is the generally accepted statistic; one of every 10 people is gay. You know us; you just don't see us. You cannot identify us by our skin color or our politics or our religion. We are invisible in every profession, every organization and every neighborhood. I am ordinary. I am just another human. Believe it or not, you know me.

I am invisible simply because I am afraid of losing my job, my home, my ability to live my life in just the same way as you. Forty years ago black people were denied the right to live equal lives simply because they were different. One hundred years ago Irish people were denied the right to live equal lives simply because they were different. Two hundred years ago the Puritans were denied the right to live equal lives simply because they were different. We, too, are simply different. Gays are not "aberrant" or "immoral." We do not seek to "recruit" straight people. ("Group gathers to oppose gay rights measures," St. Petersburg Times, April 23). We simply want to be left alone, free from legal discrimination, to be just who we are, just as you are left alone, free from legal discrimination, to be just who you are _ black, Jewish, tall, senior citizen, communist, Christian, Republican or Caucasian. We are not different from you. The only thing aberrant or immoral about being gay is that we must be invisible at the risk of the loss of our ordinary lives.

I am not aberrant or immoral. I am a high school teacher in Pasco County, a Christian, a Democrat, an ordinary human being. I mow my lawn, dream of winning the lottery, go to the beach and like to eat pizza and watch a video on Friday night. I fall in love, suffer setbacks, feel guilty when I yell at the dog. You think I am just like you, and I am, but I am also different. Aren't we all? Why must I be invisible for my difference?

I am not ashamed of being gay. I am happy and well-adjusted. I have friends who are gay and straight, just as I have friends who are black and white and Hispanic and Asian and Jewish and Buddhist and agnostic and Republican and Democratic and apolitical and male and female. I am a productive member of your community. I am invisible, however, because I am afraid. If my name appears in this publication, I legally could be denied my right to continue my ordinary life.

You know me. I am one of every 10 people. You do business with me, joke with me at the water fountain, eat lunch with me. You may love me. Maybe if I could live my ordinary life, free from legal discrimination, free to sign my name to a letter, I would trust you to see me: your golf buddy, your boss, your friend, your child. Maybe you would realize just how ordinary I am. Maybe you only hate me because I am invisible.

Name withheld.

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