I Want the World to Know, I’ve Got to Let It Show: Happy National Coming Out Day!

Today is National Coming Out Day, an international day to celebrate the LGBTQ community coming out about their sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s about proudly embracing and declaring your identity to your family and friends. It’s a day of acceptance to honor the bravery it takes to come out.

Founded by Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, former head of National Gay Rights Advocates, October 11th was chosen as the international day to celebrate coming out in honor of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

I was thrilled when the offensive, invasive policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was repealed 3 weeks ago. Over 13,000 troops were discharged throughout the 18 years it remained in effect. People should be able to serve in the military regardless of their sexual orientation. But on the flip side, we still have so long to go. The fact that DADT was passed in the first place and took so long to repeal is a travesty.

Only 5 states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont) along with D.C., the Coquille Tribe in Oregon and the Suquamish Tribe in Washington, and 10 countries (Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden) legalized same-sex marriage. Many states don’t allow LGBTQ couples to adopt children.  Aside from Unitarian Universalist churches, many other places of worship don’t accept LGBTQ parishioners, despite the notion that they should be welcoming to all people.

While recently discussing Palestinian statehood, President Obama urged other nations to protect LGBTQ rights:

“No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

Yet here in the U.S., queer individuals don’t possess equal rights, facing obstacles beyond the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and DADT. They can lose their job (even though it’s illegal to discriminate) and custody of their children, don’t always receive hospital visitation rights for their partners, face wage inequities, and suffer greater health disparities. CBS News reports that a 2009 survey by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of over “7,000 LGBT students between the ages of 13 and 21 found that, within the past year, 80 percent had been verbally harassed at school, 40 percent had been physically harassed, 60 percent felt unsafe at school, and 20 percent had been physically assaulted at school.”

How can we truly say we in the U.S. are a country based on freedom and democracy when all of our citizens are not treated equally and with dignity?

Too many straight people don’t put themselves in the shoes of the queer community. They don’t know what it’s like to be made fun of, abused and ostracized simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Love is love; people should be free to be in a relationship with whomever they choose.

The amazing feminist Miriam Perez wrote at Feministing about an organization she works with, Basic Rights Oregon, who created a series of videos featuring LGBTQ families of color. The videos showcase the range of diverse experiences including coming out, losing custody of children, the intersection of race and sexual orientation, and familial support.

I was struck by a transgender woman in the Latino video who said that her parents didn’t want her to play with Barbie dolls when she was young. She said:

“I felt like I was being caged somewhere I couldn’t be free.”

No one should ever feel trapped.

We’re a nation that preaches the merits of civil liberties. But if we truly value democracy, then it’s time we celebrate individuality and respect everyone’s rights. So let’s support our friends, family, co-workers and ourselves so we can all proudly express our identities and be who we were meant to be.

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