National Coming Out Day is Saturday October 11, and it is more than a feel-good celebration of congratulations and smiles. It is also about bravery in the face of those realities that still exist for the LGBT community, and no few tears. For a great number of people who take the leap toward owning and sharing their own personal truth on that day, there will be both in equal measure. It is one of the realities of coming out that it is always characterized by both victories, and losses.
National Coming Out Day began in 1988. It started as a way to commemorate the march on Washington undertaken to call for gay and lesbian rights. With non-discrimination written into law and same-sex marriage legal in more than half of the states in the country, some have questioned the importance of the day. Some believe that it is much easier now than it was back then to come out of the closet in light of the legislative successes that have been won. The fact is, however, that as much as attitudes have changed with an entire generation growing up never knowing the times where those legal protections did not exist, they have not changed that much. Legal battles fought and won hold little sway in the hearts and minds of people who have been raised to believe that tradition and even religious convictions justify intolerance and prejudice.
The LGBT community often is at odds with itself when it comes to the legislative priorities. The equal rights laws which were heralded by many as a victory for the community were questioned by others for having set LBGT individuals as a special interest group rather than simply a portion of the population which should be already protected under the Bill of Rights. There are those who see the legalization of same-sex marriage as a move by the community toward assimilation rather than acceptance, seeking to make gay relationships more palatable by making them look like straight ones in exchange for legal protections which should not be denied regardless. The arguments run in circles. National Coming Out Day, however, is not about legislative agendas. It has more to do with the winning of those hearts and minds, and facing proudly those who will not be won over.
Therein lies the dichotomy of smiles and tears on National Coming Out Day. The decision people are encouraged to make on this day is one that impacts every aspect of life, and the change is permanent. Coming out is one of the things that ties the community together, as it is an experience that every LGBT person has had on one level or another. Even those who remain closeted for life have someone they have confided in with very few exceptions. It is the point in a person’s life where they accept both the nature of the love within them and the scorn and sometimes even hatred that comes with it. For young people in particular, the process can be traumatic and sometimes even deadly.
Among young people between age 10 and age 24, the second leading cause of death is suicide. When those young people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the risk of attempted suicide is four times higher. In the case of transgendered youth, nearly 50 percent report having thought of killing themself. Nearly 25 percent attempt it. When family response is added to the equation, the numbers are worse. LGBT youth coming from families who respond negatively or with rejection are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are received with acceptance. When harassment or abuse from within social or professional groups is added to the equation, it is 2.5 times more likely that attempts at self-harming behavior will be made. It is a lot of pressure and anxiety. Coming out is an act of bravery, even in the modern era.
With the single act of bravery comes the equal measure of smiles to match the tears. There is the removal of the weight of carrying a secret, and the acceptance and support of a community of people who actually have insight into and context for the things that a newly out individual goes through. On National Coming Out Day, that supportive community is nationwide. Saturday, October 11 is still as important in years past because the coming out experience is still something to be celebrated. There will be smiles of hope, and there will be tears of pain. There will be friends gained and lost both. There will be acceptance and rejection, but on National Coming Out Day there will always be love.
Opinion By Jim Malone