Celebrating National Coming Out Day
October 11, 2011 by Candace Gingrich, Associate Director, Youth and Campus Engagement Program
National Coming Out Day! It’s that time of year where we officially celebrate the act of coming out – though unofficially we are coming out in ways small and large every day of our lives. It is also this time of year one of my good friends, B.A. (not as in B.A. “Bad Attitude” from The A Team, but there is some similarity) will respond to one of my coming out tweets or blog posts with the question, “Do we have to come out again?” I know she is joking with me – just her way of trying to get my goat. But I have heard the same question in one form or another – do we still need to do this? The answer is a very emphatic yes! People who know someone who is LGBT are more likely to understand our lives and the discrimination that we face and that helps them become more supportive of our efforts to achieve equality. By living openly and honestly we allow others in our lives – co-workers, neighbors, relatives, friends, classmates – to put a face on just what an LGBT American looks like. The more people who are out the less chance that ignorance will prevail. When I started at HRC in 1995 the message was that coming out was the single most powerful thing we could do to turn ignorance into understanding – in 2011 it is the same.
Coming Out Day is celebrated each year all over the world – in libraries, on college campuses, in houses of worship, by companies’ employee resource groups, in grade schools & in communities. It is important that we mark this day and also recognize that coming out isn’t a one-time thing. Coming out is a life-long journey because nearly every day we are given opportunities to come out. You are filling out forms at the doctor’s office. A co-worker asks what you did over the weekend. You overhear someone use “that’s so gay” in a negative way. Uncle Jim tells the same anti-gay joke he tells at every family gathering. Moments when we have to make the decision to be open or not. More and more, people are taking the opportunities they are given to be open and to educate others. Every day we encounter teachable moments and each chance taken to educate moves us a little bit closer to full equality.
It is important to also mention that it isn’t just LGBT people who come out. Straight allies all over the world have their own powerful stories to share about what sparked their support for equality. The defining moment when an ally decides that he or she cares enough to speak up or act out. There are some great examples of straight allies coming out in the public eye– from Cyndi Lauper and her Give A Damn campaign to Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally to some of the great folks who participated in the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign to President Obama. But don’t underestimate the power of everyday heroes – those who in their day-to-day lives seize the chance to educate when it appears. Straight ally support is critical
Now, it is not my place or anyone else’s to tell you when (or where or how) to come out – it is something that should be the sole decision of the individual. And of course we know that living openly is still a risk - but I believe it is a risk worth taking if we are to shed light on the myths, stereotypes and untruths that too many still believe about LGBT people. Simply put, as NCOD co-founder Rob Eichberg titled his book on the subject, coming out is an act of love. Love for yourself. Love for your family. Love for your community. Love for your faith. Love for a society (or country or world!) where openness and honesty should (and will!) be honored, celebrated and respected. And each time someone takes the next step in their coming out journey, we get a little bit closer to that reality. Happy Coming Out Day!
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