Why would a fat old breeder like me celebrate National Coming Out Day? Because like almost everyone, I have known and loved gay and lesbian and transgender folk my entire life—even when I did not know, or was not supposed to know the “truth” about them.
Because I was bullied and tormented in school—queer bait was a particular taunt aimed at a bookish kid who didn’t fit in—and saw worse.
Because one of my closest friends in the tight knit and open circle of young Wobblies in Chicago in the early ‘70’s was afraid to come out even to us—although we all knew it. We all had to pretend. He was the first person I knew who died from AIDS.
Because I have lived for nearly 30 years in a conservative county where gays, lesbians, and transgender folk lived in such fear that it was only in the last 10 years or so that they felt comfortable enough to organize and publicly appear at Diversity Day and local parades as McHenry County Pride.
Because I have lived through the joy worshiping in a place where the most important thing is who you are, not who you are sleeping with; where families of descriptions are just that—families; and where no one has to “represent” their life, just live it. It was not always smooth getting there, but it feels so right.
Because my life was enriched by our participation in the campaign for Marriage Equality in Illinois and by all of the wonderful people I met in that happily successful struggle.
Coming Out Day was first organized on October 11, 1988 in commemoration of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights by New Mexico psychologist Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, an openly-gay political leader from Los Angeles and head of the National Gay Rights Advocates. By its second year it had grown to be celebrated in 21 states and by 1990 was observed in all 50 states. It is now also observed in other countries including Australia, Canada, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Since 1990 it has been sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign as the National Coming Out Project.
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), long a supporter of gay, lesbian and transgender justice, is a supporter and participant in the Project through the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign.
Some think that the recent success of the Marriage Equality movement and poll numbers that show wide spread “acceptance” of “alternative life styles” represents a majority even in conservative, Bible belt states. Coming out should be no problem, right?
Unfortunately, not everyone has got the memo. Those who find anything but the most narrowly defined heterosexual behavior an abomination now feel alienated and beset upon themselves and have dug in more fiercely than ever. Some have become more violent in their lashing out. And finally, even among the well meaning, struggling to get past old and ingrained beliefs can be difficult when it comes to family members—both on the straight and gay sides of the equation meaning it can still be an emotionally wrenching experience.
In a Huffington Post blog entry Rev. Susan Russell, and Episcopal priest and LBGT activist from Pasadena, California explained the continued need of the observance this way:
The White House is posting marriage equality memes on Instagram, the Supreme Court has just ended marriage discrimination in a majority of states and Modern Family is the top rated show on television. Even the Honey Maid Graham Crackers folks are on board with adorable commercials featuring fabulous two-dad families. How much more out do we need to be, for heaven's sake? Aren’t we done yet?
The answer of course is no. We are not done. And we won’t be done until no gay kid is afraid to go to school because he’ll be bullied. We won’t be done until no lesbian teenager is afraid to walk home because she’ll be jumped. We won’t be done until no transgender woman has to hope she can make it to the ATM and back to her car without “an incident.” And we won't be done until no child ever has to grow up being taught by his youth pastor that he is an abomination to God.