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It's National Coming Out Day & It Still Matters

Friday, October 11, 2013

With all the wars, the government “shut down,” and the debt ceiling “crisis” looming large, I woke up today ready for a celebration. Today is National Coming Out Day, and I’m ready to celebrate my brave friends who have come out and are living the life they want to live – without shame, without guilt, and with pride – as the people they truly are. National Coming Out Day marks the anniversary of the National March on Washington in 1987 when more than 500,000 people marched in support of Lesbian and Gay Rights. As the Human Right Campaign explains, "It gives us an opportunity to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly.”

2013 has been a victorious year for LGBT civil rights - the country can waive bye bye to the Defense of Marriage Act, and five additional states now allow same-sex marriage under the law (check out this up-to-date interactive map). But anti-gay hate crimes are on the rise, including in the Big Apple, where a spate of attacks shocked the City last spring. We still have work to do.

Being who you are or who you want to be, and standing up for what you believe in, is hard for anyone, gay or straight.  But for most of us, being ourselves and speaking our mind does not expose us to the possibility of being shunned by our friends and families, or being bullied, ostracized, and even attacked by strangers.  

While I’m ready to celebrate how far the world has come in its journey towards tolerance, acceptance, and love, I also want to remember what this day is all about…after all, that is what special days of commemoration are for.  So we don’t forget our history.  Therefore, I scanned the major media to see what I could learn. There was not much to see!  So it seems this year's theme - Why Coming Out Still Matters - is pretty apropos. 

I couldn't find anything in the New York Times, although they did a nice piece on Helping a Gay Child Come Out last year.  While dogs on skateboards were front page news at the Huffington Post, the Gay Voices section offered a number of worthwhile articles and moving editorials. The Guardian honored the day by sharing readers' stories, while CNN published a piece on the Gay Community "Coming Out" to Enroll in Obamacare (uh, it raises a few educational points, but overall, an odd read and pandering spin to celebrate the day). Some regional papers posted news of local events and student activities, like Duke and UNC joining forces to celebrate together (Go Duke! OK, I could care less about sports rivalry but have to give props to my legal alma mater). And, the U.S. Postal Service has confirmed that it will honor civil rights hero Harvey Milk with a new commemorative stamp in 2014.

Theme for 2013: Why Coming Out Still Matters

Why does coming out still matter?

1.     A lot of bigotry and hate stems from ignorance.  When people know someone who is LGBT, they’re more likely to understand and support LGBT issues, and support equality under the law.

2.  Each time someone speaks up, someone hears them, and there is a chance to change hearts and minds.

3.  When people are out, it is harder for others to stand by and do nothing when injustice occurs.  They can’t hide and say they didn’t know.

If you already live openly, you probably want your privacy.  You deserve that, and your life is no one's business but your own.  But if you’re willing to share your story, to be a leader, you can do great things for those who are still unsure, who lack support, but might want to come out, like you. October is LGBT History Month, and Equality Forum highlights 31 iconic LGBT figures for 31 days. See who's come out this year.

The Human Rights Campaign's Coming Out Center offers a wealth of resources for those still figuring out what to do.

Straight Allies, You Come Out Too!

Straight people need to step up and come out, as well. Allison Berkowitz tells you why she did it, and you can too. Stand up for civil rights and make the world a safer, happier place for us all.

Don't know what to do? These organizations are for you: Straight for Equality offers support in the workplace or communities of faith; the Gay-Straight Alliance supports youth and schools; Athlete Ally is committed to making sports inclusive for everyone; GetEQUAL asks people, gay and straight, to show their support with the #out4equality campaign.

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