The Orlando attack, which left 49 people dead in addition to Mateen, occurred just two weeks ahead of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
That ruling, and increasing acceptance in many other realms of U.S. society, have empowered many people to come out as gay at earlier ages and to be more comfortable with that decision, according to gay activist Wayne Besen, a Florida native now based in Chicago
“When I came out in 1988, I felt alone, like I was the only one,” he said. “Nobody says that anymore. Everyone knows there’s a community out there, that people are out and happy.”
However, he said there are pockets of U.S. society, for example in households where homosexuality is viewed as sinful, where young people still struggle with whether to come out.
“For someone who grew up in an extremely anti-gay atmosphere, with parents saying that if they had a gay child they would shun them, that creates profound psychological damage,” Besen said. “They may want to come out but they can’t.”
For any such young person, he suggested, it would be deeply frustrating to be in the closet while observing the growing number of gays and lesbians living openly and confidently.
“It’s out there and in your face and hard to avoid,” he said.