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The 26th anniversary of National Coming Out Day (NCOD) will be marked this Saturday, October 11th, and it still matters. October 11th is significant because in 1988 the day was set aside as the one-year anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights.
NCOD is marked with celebrations and events across the U.S., hosted by national organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC, see video below) and Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). On college campuses Queer Student Alliances (QSAs) and similar groups encourage people to speak out on National Coming Out Day about their sexual and gender identities. “The personal is political.” (Carol Hanisch, 1969)
This is important for several reasons: First, gender and sexual identities may not be obvious to others, so self-acknowledging and speaking out (“coming out”) creates visibility. Second, visibility allows for greater awareness. It matters that the October 11th National Coming Out Day will do both.
Greater visibility and awareness can lead to change of hearts and minds, leading to legislation that provides safety for the thousands of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or asexual (LGBTQA) persons.
Another “coming out” is by those who love and care for LGBTQA persons as supporters, advocates and allies. These may be family or friends, and their public acknowledgement is essential in the movement towards a safer and more just world where people can love and live their lives unafraid– both locally and nationally.
Several key national groups have been formed for the purpose of allies. These are notably Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Some parents have been extremely strong advocates for their children. One in particular is Judy Shepard, whose 21-year-old son Matthew was brutally murdered in 1998 by homophobic hate propagators. Through Mrs. Shepard’s advocacy, federal hate crimes legislation was expanded in2009 to include sexual orientation.
Coming out is a long-term process, repeated many times over someone’s lifetime. As an LGBTQA person, telling one’s parents is the first significant hurdle. Questions arise as to how they will hear the information and whether they will be accepting.
These affect the decision of when and how to tell one’s family. Some families will not be accepting. Those youth must then decide where to turn for support.
A disproportionate number of LGBTQA youth have died by suicide because of isolation and not knowing that “it gets better.” The national “It Gets Better” video project was established in 2010 to reach out to LGBTQA youth to help them see their future positively.
Coming out in the workplace is another momentous decision for LGBTQA persons. Safety is not always a static force. It can vary, depending on the composition of the workplace and its leadership. Lack of acceptance may not be overt. It can take the form of indifference. Apathy can be just as harmful psychologically as bullying.
When National Coming Out Day started in 1988, many LGBTQA persons could not have imagined a life that included marriage and children. Many lived a double life between work and home. It was during this time of hiding that the AIDS epidemic peaked.
Safe sex practices came as a result of realizing that being “closeted” could lead to death. This is because not “coming out” meant that people lived their lives in secrecy. Communication helped build safe sex practices.
During the 1980s gay and lesbian speakers’ bureaus popped up across the country, as a means of education. Many said they did it for LGBTQA persons who felt it was not safe to do so themselves.
In the 1980s, it was a distant dream that LGBTQA persons could be visible and still live commonplace, normal lives as part of the fabric of society. During that time many voiced the desire to be identified by the multiplicity of their characters. They wished that they might hear, “Oh yes, and by the way, she is a lesbian” as if it were a relatively insignificant aspect of their personhood.
The landscape today is vastly different. Ten years ago same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts as the first country in the nation. One year ago the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, 1996) was overturned, paving the way for same-sex marriage nationwide to become a possibility.
This week the Supreme Court decided not to decide about a ruling that same-sex marriages can occur in five more (and perhaps even more) states. Same-sex marriage may become a reality for more than half of the United States. The road traveled has been a great distance in just a quarter of a decade.
Some may question why, with all these changes in the recent past, does National Coming Out Day still matter? It still matters for the millions of LGBTQA persons who are not safe – at work, on the streets, in many environments where they interact daily. Until every LGBTQA persons is safe to live proudly and without hiding, no LGBTQA person is truly safe.
HRC Celebrates National Coming Out Day 2014
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown
Prior relevant coming out articles by the author:
Same-Sex Marriage Pioneers Mark 10-Year Celebration
Boston Pride Happy and Unique