Come Out. Speak Out. Vote.
Josh Aterovis is the author of the Killian Kendall Mystery Series as well as numerous columns and articles. Visit his site at http://www.steliko.com/bleedinghearts
Come Out. Speak Out. Vote.
By Josh Aterovis
September 24, 2004
"Come Out. Speak Out. Vote." That's the theme for this year's National Coming Out Day, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The purpose of this year's theme is not only to encouraging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans to come out, but to also talk to their families and friends about their lives—and perhaps most importantly this year, participate in the election process.
National Coming Out Day began in 1988, and is celebrated every October 11 to mark the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Equality. The first National Coming Out Day was celebrated with events in eighteen states, and national media attention including The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, USA Today and National Public Radio. By 1990, it had expanded to all 50 states. The celebration gathered momentum with each year, and in 1993, HRC, then the Human Rights Campaign Fund, merged with the growing movement. Since then, the event has exploded onto the international scene, featuring numerous celebrities and well-known LGBT persons as its spokespeople.
Traditionally, the annual celebration is used to encourage LGBT people to come out, but in an election year where gay issues have become divisive platform campaigns, HRC decided a little extra emphasis was called for.
"This year, we need more than 'I'm gay and it's OK.' We need our families and friends to say 'It's not OK to use gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues as a wedge,'" said Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "We must talk to and involve our families and friends. Their voices are some of the strongest in the fight for equality."
In December 2003, the HRC Foundation conducted a public opinion poll that found while 77 percent of respondents consider themselves "out" as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, only 32 percent talk to their parents about public policy issues, and only 46 percent talk to their brothers and sisters about such topics. In contrast, respondents were much more likely to speak frankly on these topics with casual acquaintances (57 percent) or coworkers (54 percent).
Coming out is one of the most powerful statements a person can make, but simply coming out isn't always enough. Once out, we need to talk to the people around us. Talking to our families, friends, and coworkers is vital to our cause. Understanding how issues like same-sex marriage, hate-crime laws, and anti-discrimination legislation affect us personally can have an enormous impact on their feelings on the subject—and how they vote. For most people, unless they are close to someone who is gay, they don't even understand what these issues mean. Unless we tell them, even the most sympathetic friend or family member may not realize that without the protection of legal recognition, we may not even be able to visit our partner in the hospital, care for our partner's children, inherit from our partners, or even receive medical insurance. They may not know that in thirty-six states without anti-discrimination laws, we can be fired from our jobs simply for being gay. They may not comprehend how hurtful it is for us to hear the President of the United States—a man who is supposed to represent all Americans and who pledged to be a uniter and not a divider—calling gay and lesbian people sinners and pushing for discrimination against us to be written into the Constitution.
Before we can start talking to our friends and family, however, we must first come out. There are many different ways to do this. The first step is to come out to yourself. That simply means identifying yourself as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person. Once you have done that, the next step is to come out to others. Many people start small, testing the waters so to speak. Some find it easiest to tell people online before telling friends and family in their everyday lives. Coming out to your friends and family is perhaps the hardest part of the process, but it can also be the most important step. Coming out has been described as a journey rather than a destination, and it's very true. In many ways, once you choose to come out, you never really stop. Every new person you meet is another decision, another opportunity to come out. You must make decisions about coming out at the workplace, school, church, and with your health care provider, just to name a few. It's a journey that never really ends. Personally, I've found it to be an extremely rewarding journey.
Even our straight allies can come out. A straight ally is someone who is not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, but supports LGBT equal rights and fair treatment. Straight allies are some of the most effective and powerful advocates for the LGBT movement. These allies have proven invaluable personally and politically, and are increasingly important in the fight for equality. Their voices are often heard while those of LGBT people are ignored. Some famous straight allies are Betty Degenerous, mother of Ellen Degenerous, and Judy Shepherd, mother of Matthew Shepherd. You don't have to be a parent of a gay child to be a straight ally, however. Our allies also include friends, politicians, other family members, and other fair-minded people.
If you've never come out, maybe this is the year! If you're already out, lend your support to the cause. Thousands of LGBT people and allies have celebrated National Coming Out Day in schools, churches and businesses nationwide through workshops, speak-outs, rallies and other events aimed at showing the public that LGBT people are everywhere. Look for events in your local area and get involved. Many colleges hold special events even in the most conservative regions. Whether you're coming out for the first time or you've been out for years, be sure to talk to your friends and family about the issues that are important to you. You never know what difference your words could make. And above all else, don't forget to vote! Come out. Speak out. Vote.