Cassandra Santiago and Paul P. Murphy, CNN
On National Coming Out Day, Ashlyn Smith tweeted an appreciation for her roommates with images of colorful balloons, streamers and a card they’d filled with encouraging words.
“I cried, of course, because it was just so wonderful being around people who love and accept you,” Smith told CNN.
The atmosphere was celebratory, but more important, supportive. On Monday, the 20-year-old had unintentionally outed her bisexual orientation to her religious parents.
On Monday night, Smith’s phone lit up with a text from her dad. He had seen a Facebook comment by Smith saying she “plays for both teams.” Her response to an anonymous post was made in a public Facebook page she did not expect would show up on her father’s news feed. The page serves as a connection tool between students at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, where Smith is a student.
In her reply to whether she liked girls, Smith encouraged the inquiring person to “go ahead and message” her. What she got at 10:24 p.m. that same night was a text from her Mormon father.
“You need to take the post about playing for both teams off Facebook,” he wrote. “Your mom is in the room so I can’t talk right now but you need to call me.”
Smith, who was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints along with her entire extended family, had unknowingly outed herself to her father.
“At first, I was terrified,” Smith said. “I went into a straight panic attack. My best friend had to calm me down.”
At 10:31 p.m., her father called, leaving no time for Smith to prepare for a conversation about a secret she maintained at home, but openly embraced while at college.
“It was hard to explain it to him, like the words were trapped in my throat in a way,” Smith said. “I felt sick to my stomach.”
To Smith’s relief, her dad’s reaction was one she “needed to hear.”
“… In the end my dad told me that we are going to figure this out together and that the bottom line is that he loved me no matter what,” Smith said.
After the phone call, she burst into tears while her best friend and additional four roommates comforted her.
The next day Smith returned from dinner and shopping with a friend to the balloons and streamers, homemade cookies, the card and a huge group hug.
“I hope you know how loved you are,” said a paragraph from one of her roommates, Morgan.
Smith describes coming out as bittersweet; she really didn’t know what the outcome would be. She thought about the risks she faced by telling her truth: She could lose her friends and extended family. There are also potential religious consequences.
“But in the end, it felt like I am living my truth and letting the people who I care about most know who I am.”
National Coming Out Day, designed as a day of celebration for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, gained national traction in 1988 when thousands of LGBTQ people and allies held the first National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington.
On Wednesday, Smith’s sentiments joined those of others celebrating the 29th annual National Coming Out Day across social media platforms.
The Human Rights Campaign shared a video highlighting coming out stories of 15 celebrities and activists.
YouTube tweeted a #ProudToBe Creators play list, which compiles 69 popular coming out videos of the last decade.
And Twitter created a moment featuring tweets ranging from lighthearted comedy to reassuring messages.
Smith’s appreciation tweet, included in the Twitter moments, had over 300 retweets and 1,900 likes by Wednesday afternoon.
“My parents don’t quite understand bisexuality and I have yet to explain it to them,” she says, describing her feelings as liberating. “A weight that I have carried for so many years is finally lifted off my shoulders. It isn’t easy, but in the end I know I’m not alone.”