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Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

11 Oct

Me and my brothers, I’m on the far right. Note the bevel.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day.

Coming Out in this country is something which has changed a great deal since I was a kid. For many young people today (though certainly not all), the process has become far less traumatic. The act of telling a friend or family member that you’re gay is now frequently met with a “so?” and a “cool, let’s go to a gay bar!”

While the reactions for some have changed, the process, the act of summoning the courage to say it, has remained the same. For me and for thousands of others, we spent years hiding – pretending to be something we  weren’t.

I dated girls in high school. Well, I hung out with girls in high school. At one point, one girl who was a good size larger than me, pushed me up against the band room lockers one afternoon. “I want you to go out with me.” she said. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll say yes.” Ever the pacifist, I reluctantly agreed. Nothing ever happened outside of her falling asleep on my lap at a few parties (an action she had in common with my fiancé). Every moment with her was filled with fear. I wasn’t just afraid of getting my ass kicked, I was afraid of something happening where she would find out who I really was. And tell everyone about it.

My first beard, Beth. Note my happiness.

Another girl I dated – to this day, one of the sweetest people I know, I had one date with. We went to see Shadowlands in the movie theater. The event was plagued by 3 different delays due to a faulty projector, so the already painfully-long film was met with two 30-minute intermissions. As if things weren’t awkward enough.
A card I received a few days later, professing her “love” for me…yes, she said “I love you”, caused me to end that very quickly.

So when I finally came out to my best friend John (as bisexual of course, cuz that’s the natural progression of things, right?), I expected shock and surprise. I mean, who would expect a 19 year old who’d never seriously dated a girl and dreamed of moving to New York City and starring on Broadway to be gay? Instead John offered to host a coming out party for me at his dorm and offered zero of the shock and awe I hoped for.

And of course, coming home from my first rennaisance faire with my Dad. And he claimed not to know.

In all seriousness though, when a person comes out to you, act surprised – even if you’re not. We work really hard to hide who we are in many cases and if upon coming out we’re met with a “Oh, I know. We all know,” what you’re saying to that person is “We’ve known forever, you’re bad at hiding and we’ve been talking about you behind your back for years.” Not exactly the most supportive message to send to someone in easily the most vulnerable place they’ve ever been in.

So today, on National Coming Out Day, be yourself. If you’re gay, tell someone who didn’t know before – maybe even someone who probably doesn’t care. Tell your taxi driver, your banker, the guy holding the door open at 7-11. In honor of all those who can’t come out for fear they’ll be kicked out of their homes, lose their livelihood, or worse – come out to someone new. And have a gay day.

 

 

How One Person Coming Out Can Change the World

11 Oct

Raymond Miller (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

It is my belief that a pretty large majority of the people who read this blog have come out to their families and friends. Many of you are also out at work, at church, to your local businesses and everyone you meet. And some of you may read this blog and others like it as your only outreach to the LGBT community.

Today is National Coming Out Day and we want to be certain that our readers understand the importance of being out. We’ve created a little survey of our own here that we’d love for you to take so we can get an idea of who’s reading and some of your stories.

In 2009, Gallup conducted a survey which told us many things, but primarily it told us that those who know us, are far more likely to vote for our equality. On the question of marriage, the number of those who do not think we should have marriage equality dropped from 72% to 47% among respondents who didn’t know vs. those who knew someone who is gay or lesbian.

With simple acceptance of our relationships, those who didn’t personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, 57% said that our relationships should be illegal. Among those who said they personally knew one of us, that number dropped to 29%:

A good friend once asked me if there was anyone in my family that didn’t know I was gay. I told him that my grandmother didn’t know because she was so old and why would I upset her at her age? He simply asked: “Does she vote?” Yes, she did. If these numbers are correct, than it tells us that people may vote for us nearly 2-to-1 when they know one of us (as Harvey Milk once said).

But it goes farther than that. A few years ago, I asked friends on facebook to use their Thanksgiving family gatherings to tell their families who they are. And to those who were already out, to use the time around the table to ask their families to do more. We need allies, so asking your families and friends to be not only allies, but advocates for your equality can double or triple the number of people affected by your coming out.

That Christmas, I went home and was doing my Christmas Eve gift wrapping with my sister-in-law. There was a brief pause in our conversation and she said “You know, I did what you asked me to do and I brought up gay marriage with some co-workers.” She went on to say she was “surprised” by some of her co-worker’s attitudes on equality, but continued to discuss it nonetheless. Did she change everyone’s minds just by bringing it up? Probably not. But is it possible she made some people think about what equality really means to them and perhaps consider voting for it? It’s very likely.

When the Gallup survey came out, Andrew Sullivan used it as a rallying cry so that people would “accelerate the coming-out process.” It’s clear that coming out makes a difference in how people vote and that those still living in the closet can actually hurt our progress. The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission used the Gallup survey to ask Christians to stop knowing gays and lesbians. Because hey, if you don’t know us, you won’t vote for us, right? It’s this kind of bigoted rhetoric which causes statistics like the nearly 1/3 of all homeless teens being LGBT.

So, we are issuing this request. Challenge yourself. If there is anyone in your life that you are not out to, and you can safely come out to, do it. You don’t have to do it today (despite the awesomely perfect excuse you have today), but make a commitment today and give yourself a deadline to tell everyone in your life who you are – including your banker and dry cleaner – they vote too.

 

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