Coming Out Day is coming.
I remember making speeches eight or nine years ago about the importance of coming out—detailing the reasons that gay rights would not advance until the majority of gay and lesbian citizens made their identities known. (This was before people routinely included references to bisexual and transgendered identities.)
- It’s much harder to demonize “the other” if it turns out that he/she lives next door, works in the adjacent cubicle, or is your lawyer. It’s a lot easier to picture all gay men as female impersonators with feather boas when you don’t know that your favorite Aunt Bea and her friend Gladys haven’t just been roommates for the past thirty-five years.
- If you are a politician—at least a politician from an urban area—it is harder to disregard a potentially substantial group of voters and contributors. (These days, that only holds true if you’re a Democrat, unfortunately.)
- If you are a gay person who is still in the closet, it is much harder to speak out on gay issues, for multiple reasons.
- If you are a mother or father, you can’t really know your child if s/he is hiding such an important part of who they are. And that child loses an opportunity to discover what a ferocious and effective ally mom and dad can be. (Speaking for myself, anyone who tries to make my son a second-class citizen had better watch out for mom!)
These were—and are—good reasons for coming out, and they convinced thousands of people to do just that.
These days, we hear much less frequently about the importance of coming out, and for good reason. People listened, heard, and acted, and the consequences have been dramatic. While there are plenty of people still hiding behind the off-season clothes in the back of what must be a very large closet, there are so many people who now proudly acknowlege their gayness and relish their ability to truly be who they are that the conversation has turned from whether to come out to the question of when. That’s because we are seeing a new phenomenon, increasing numbers of young people who now come out to family and friends while they are still in high school.
The results of this increase have been striking. Because so many in the gay community had the courage to declare themselves over the past decade or so (often in extremely hostile environments), the broader culture has changed. Is it still hostile? Yes, but not nearly as much as it used to be. If some families and workplaces remain ideologically closed, many others have become welcoming. Young men and women today certainly don’t have it easy, but they face a far more accepting culture than their older brothers and sisters faced just ten or fifteen years ago.
On Coming Out Days in the past, the message was simple: come out. Own who you are. Be visible.
This year, on Coming Out Day, it might be appropriate to reflect on just how much good the coming out movement has done—socially, culturally, personally and legally. Progress is always slow and difficult when it requires shifting people’s attitudes, but progress—substantial progress—has been made.
Being visible isn’t just productive. It’s exhilarating.