Come Out to Come In

Here’s my sermon for your Sunday.

Back in the early days of the women’s movement, an oft-repeated mantra was “the personal is the political.” The point was that unless an issue was personal, you were unlikely to bother engaging it politically.

There’s research confirming the insight. Academics who study civic engagement talk about the connection between “salience” and action—the personal importance of any particular issue is one predictor of that individual’s political involvement.

This accords with common sense: unless something matters to you, you are unlikely to participate in political advocacy around that issue.

“Coming out” is the perfect political expression of that insight. People who may have favored equal rights for GLBT folks in the abstract found the issue much more salient when they realized that their own friend or family member was one of those subject to marginalization and discrimination. Suddenly, being an ally meant something more affirmative than refraining from opposition, or expressing an inclusive sentiment at a cocktail party.

It seems so obvious to us now, but in the early days of the gay rights movement, coming out was a real gamble—a gamble that might not have worked, and that took a great deal of courage. Until there was a critical mass of “out” gay folks, out was a lonely and sometimes dangerous place to be. Being “out and proud” didn’t simply risk social disapproval—jobs were lost, families estranged, friendships shattered.

Today, after a generation of activism, we can say with some assurance that the gay community is in “mop up” mode. There’s still a good deal of bigotry, but thanks to coming out, the handwriting on the civic wall reads “Come on in.” Out gays hold elective office, enjoy marriage equality in more and more states, and participate in Pride celebrations that are more celebratory and less defiant than in the old days.

If we needed any more evidence of the success of the gay rights movement, it can be found in the fact that other despised minorities are looking to the GLBT community for strategic guidance.

In a blog earlier this week, I referenced a meeting of the Secular Coalition for America. The Coalition includes a variety of organizations concerned with the marginalization of non-believers, the war on women and science, religiously-based homophobia, and especially with efforts by “bible-believing” conservatives to move America toward “godliness”—aka theocratic laws.

Coalition members want non-theists to emulate the central strategy of the gay civil rights movement, and come out.

According to recent Pew data, nonbelievers—defined as those who answer “none” when asked about their religious affiliations—number around 20% of the American population. In 2000, some 14% of the public self-identified as part of the Religious Right. And yet, the Religious Right exercises immensely more political power than the religiously disengaged. They haven’t just been drivers of the culture wars and efforts to recast discrimination as “religious liberty,” they have been the most effective foot soldiers in the war on science.

Lawmakers—and not just Republicans—fall over themselves to pander to the obsessions of that 14%, because unlike the “nones,” they’ve been so public and visible that we think there are more of them than there really are.

Think how much more rational and inclusive our politics would be if even half of the “nones” came out and worked with the many reasonable religious folks to demand equal treatment and respect for all Americans, whatever their beliefs or lack thereof.


  1. Letter I wrote to NUVO: (If they print it, it should be this week.)
    To: NUVO Editor (Letter to Editor)
    The June 11-18, 2014 edition of NUVO has a front cover picture and an article about Judge Sarah Evans Barker receiving a Cultural Vision Lifetime Achievement Award. I would like to call attention to the fact that she ruled that the State of Indiana has the right to continue to discriminate against nonbelievers in the matter of who can solemnize their marriages. While religious people of all persuasions can have their clergy marry them in a ceremony that reflects their worldview, secular persons cannot. Yes, secular persons can have a CFI Secular Celebrant perform their marriage ceremony but that person cannot make their marriage legal by signing the marriage certificate. Therefore, these couples must take a two step approach by finding someone else to sign the paper work.
    After Judge Barker’s decision to allow this discrimination to continue, the case was appealed to 7th Circuit. Oral arguments were heard on April 19, 2013 and the court has of this date has not rendered its verdict.
    For a detailed explanation of this situation, links to the actual case, Judge Barker’s decision, and the appeal, go to:
    Reba Boyd Wooden, Executive Director, CFI-Indiana; Secular Celebrant; Director of the CFI Secular Celebrant program; and plaintiff in the case.

  2. Thanks, Reba. It is important this information be shared; of course if all of these instances were to be made public there would be little room for a Sports Section in the Star. I treasure my gay friends, continue signing all petitions supporting their rights that appear on my AOL, being disabled prevents me from attending Pride Weekend to show my support. Someone posted a request on Facebook a few weeks ago asking everyone who received mail with a Harvey Milk stamp, return it to sender. I went to the Post Office and bought 100 Harvey Milk stamps; just my little way to revolt. Wish I could have found that post again to thank the person; if not for their request I would not have known there are Harvey Milk commerative stamps available.

  3. Of course the goal is freedom. For everyone. Not winners and losers.

    I, personally see many people whose Faith is central to their lives and well being. Certainly sex, no matter anyone’s preference, is the essence of joie de vivre. Our skin color should never be a factor in anyone’s comfort in being in it.

    Simple freedom. Simple respect for others. Simple live and let live.

    Dealing with one’s enemies is a necessary survival skill but figuring out the real ones from the cultural ones is what distinguishes functional lives from those wasted on autopilot.

    There is external slavery and internal slavery. They are equally destructive. Freedom empowers. Our freedom empowers us, my freedom, me. Both living unrestrained by others, and unrestraining of others, are requirements for living free.

  4. Reba, thanks for your comment. I was unaware that Judge Barker let the discrimination stand. I’m reminded of another of her decisions which disenfranchised many Hoosiers from their voting rights when she found Indiana’s voter ID laws did not harm our citizens.

  5. “The personal is the political” referred to the idea that women’s rights issues could be resolved only through political action. At the time, we incorrectly assumed that women who were not in the feminist movement were apolitical. Many women who were not involved were, in fact, taking their own form of political action. (See Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is the Political,” February 1969.)

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