Today is the 25th Annual National Coming Out Day, a day to celebrate and support people who are coming out and people who already have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, allied with LGBT people, or otherwise having an expansive notion of gender and sexuality. The theme of this year’s National Coming Out Day is “Coming Out Still Matters.” No matter how you characterize your own gender or sexual orientation, coming out still matters for you or someone you know, and it still matters a great deal for the movement for LGBT rights.
Coming out still matters because it enables people to be open about who they are rather than hiding it from the people around them. It enables the people around them to learn and grow and be supportive. The process that LGBT-identified individuals go through in telling their friends and family about their sexual orientation or gender-identity can be simple, cathartic, confusing, frightening, dangerous and everything in between, sometimes all at once. Today we celebrate all of the people who have liberated themselves and helped us all down the path toward equality by coming out as LGBT. We also celebrate those people who still cannot come out because they are trans and serving in the military, or because they are in prison or live in a place where it is simply not safe to be an out LGBT-identified person. And we celebrate those who have found liberation by casting off these labels entirely. We celebrate everyone who takes action to support the LGBT community, and everyone who decides to have a conversation about gender, sexual orientation, or equality under the law.
Coming out still matters because it is still important for so many people, because it is brave, and because it helps bring social change. Every person who comes out influences the way people in that person’s life think about LGBT people. Collectively, these individuals start conversations that can be instrumental in changing long-held beliefs about LGBT people based on stereotypes and not on real people. They build the movement that calls for equal rights and stands up to deep-seated patterns of discrimination, bullying, harassment, and violence. In the words of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials and leaders of the gay rights movement, “Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo, will be destroyed once and for all.”
Coming out must still matter because there’s still a closet to come out from. We still live in a country and a world where it’s assumed that everyone is heterosexual, and that everyone’s sex at birth matches their gender identity. LGBT people have to come out to break out of these limiting assumptions. One day sexual orientation and gender may cease to be relevant categories by which we understand individuals, and perhaps then coming out won’t matter as much. But we’re not there yet; today, it does still matter.
So today, if you feel safe doing so, come out or continue the lifelong process of coming out, and talk with people in your life about being LGBT, being intersex, being queer, being curious, being an ally, being committed to equal rights for people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. By coming out we can open up the hearts of the people around us. We can change people’s minds. And we can work together toward a more equal and loving country.
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