Sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Fund, this October 11th marks the 25th annual National Coming Out Day! For those of us who have made the decision to live openly as LGBT individuals, October 11th, National Coming Out Day, can be a bittersweet occasion to remember.
My Personal Journey
I remember when the idea for a national event of to encourage “coming out of the closet” was bandied about. At the time, I was in my first year of college at a small, private college in the South. Barely larger than my own high school, no one spoke about being lesbian or gay at my college. No student groups protested on the quad. There was no safe campus space to even have lunch as openly gay students. As a result, I had both feet firmly rooted in the closet, despite a desperately passionate, unrequited love for a fraternity brother.
After my first year, I transferred to a “Big 10” university in the Midwest. I did so, in part, because I wanted to attend college where I could be the person I wanted to be, not an empty suit. Already, I had discovered that living in the closet affected both my personal and professional choices in ways that served me – and often others – poorly. Early on, I realized I needed to be in an educational space that offered me the freedom to come out, if I chose to, and to learn more about my community’s history and future.
The “Coming Out” Controversy
Even at my “big 10” school, however, coming out remained a controversial subject. As young gays and lesbians embarking upon life’s journey, fears of family isolation, job discrimination, marginalization, criminalization, and even death seemed far more real than they do today. Our sexual activities, even among consensual LGBT adults, was criminalized due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v. Hardwick. Job equality, let alone marriage equality, was hardly a viable political issue in most places. No one discussed the fundamental “wrongness” of bullying – cyber or otherwise.
If there were videos on how “it gets better,” with sports teams supporting the cause of young LGBTs, I missed those entirely. Of course, that was easier to do in the dark ages before the Internet. Back then, being discriminated against – if not openly victimized – was still taken as a given. Moreover, we young kids lived in a shadow of AIDS that was far darker than it is today. For many of us coming from rural areas, in particular, coming out as a gay man was tantamount to getting AIDS, and dying from it.
The Closet Unhinged – A Personal Choice
Nevertheless, with the support of a new school, my mom and my grandma (RIP), a growing group of “out” friends, and a hot new man, I did not just come out – I blew the door off the closet! Since my closet was “unhinged,” as it were, I have never looked back. God willing, I never will have to live that lie again.
For me, coming out when I did was as much a political choice as it was a sexual one. It was – and is – a choice deserving, in and of itself, of official recognition. At the same time – regardless how vocally I pressed the issue for myself – I also recognize through the wisdom of age and introspection that the decision whether to come out or not is not a choice we all face equally. I was lucky. For others, the process can be gut-wrenching and painful. It can leave behind scars that, quite frankly, may not heal with time.
Coming out of the closet remains a deeply personal choice, my friends. Any who have made the transition, and are here to tell about it, can only speak from their own experiences. As much recognition as I wanted, and still want, the man I am today encourages us all – particularly the younger generations – to show the most steadfast empathy for those who cannot, safely, come out of the closet. And, respect those of us who did, and for what we went through – and are still going through – to make a world where you can be open and equal.
Why It Still Matters
That being said, coming out of the closet is a decision that matters greatly to the survival of our community. Studies consistently show that the “straight world” finds it less and less palatable to discriminate against, or deny rights to, LGBT individuals, if they know at least one LGBT individual to begin with. For that reason, this writer wishes to express sincerest thanks to the Human Rights Campaign Fund and Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (P-FLAG). This year, the two organizations partnered together to create a brochure entitled, Coming Out As A Straight Supporter. You can flip through a digital version of brochure, or download your own PDF copy from the Jox Box on this site.
- Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are… Why We Need National Coming Out Day (abravefaith.wordpress.com)
- Happy National Coming Out Day 🙂 (hiddenperspectives.org)
- Watch: HRC Celebrates 25 Years of National Coming Out Day (hrc.org)
- Barron: We Should Celebrate National Coming Out Day (eile.ie)