Today is the 29th annual National Coming Out Day, where members of the LGBTQ community loudly and proudly declare their identity.
And while some argue that we no longer need the day, the truth is we need now as much as we ever did, as our rights are still under attack, and we continue to struggle for acceptance and liberation.
The attacks on the LGBTQ community intensify under Trump
One need to look no further than what occurred on this very day at the Stonewall National Monument, where the National Park Service, under the Trump administration’s direction, suddenly pulled out of a ceremony to hoist the rainbow pride flag.
It had been promoted as the first time the pride flag would fly on federal lands, but the Trump administration made certain the flag pole in question was not officially part of the national monument, and therefore not federal land.
There is also still a fear that Trump might pull the national monument designation from Stonewall, as the administration is currently reviewing designations made by his predecessors.
The Trump administration has attacked us more than just symbolically. It has also rescinded transgender student protections concerning bathroom use, and has banned trans people from joining the military.
It has also stood on the side of employers who wish to fire employees for being LGBTQ, as well as with those who wish to use their religious beliefs as a license to discriminate.
Why coming out matters
And make no mistake about it, coming out matters. Coming out is a part of the struggle for liberation.
Coming out is a revolutionary act that can, particularly when done in large numbers, bring about real change.
While we unfortunately are stuck watching much of the progress we have made on LGBTQ rights get systematically rolled back by an administration that clearly doesn’t care about us at best, and actively despises us at more realistic, we must remember that we have come a long way.
This backlash comes as a result of the achievements we’ve made in becoming seen more as regular people instead of “the other,” that is foreign, and therefore easy to attack.
Personal discrimination as motivator
I waited until my mid-to-late twenties to come out to anyone, and was past 30 before I finally came out to my family.
I was beginning to feel ashamed that I wasn’t fully out, and it was beginning to get harder to juggle my half-in-half-out existence, not to mention unfair to those around me, some of whom were not tasked with keeping my secret.
While my close friends knew, in most ways I was still closeted.
It began to feel even more imperative to live my truth when I started to experience harassment at the restaurant where I worked at the time, Mac’s Speed Shop, from some coworkers and a couple of the managers who had ascertained my queerness through observation. We’re never as well hidden as we like to believe.
After one of my managers called me a faggot in Spanish, in order to illicit laughter from some of the cooks, I decided enough was enough.
But even still I looked for an out to not have to be out.
What business was it of anyone else’s that I had the capacity to be sexually attracted to as well as fall in love with both men and women?
The speech that finally made me come out
Then the final straw that broke the lie’s back came when I happened to see a clip of a speech from Harvey Milk in a documentary that wasn’t explicitly about him.
But for me, he stole the show.
Because what he said was what I already knew, but needed to have put to me as a challenge. The speech shows up in Milk, but as I had not seen that film I was unfamiliar. I’m glad to have gotten it straight from the source, with no disrespect intended toward Sean Penn’s performance.
“Every gay person must come out,” Milk said, all those decades ago, but ringing in my ears with all the immediacy in the world. “As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family, you must tell your relatives, you must tell your friends if indeed they are your friend, you must tell your neighbors, you must tell the people you work with, you must tell the people at the stores you shop in.”
I sat on the couch, petrified, aware I was about to be without excuse.
By the time he got to how coming out will force them “to realize that we are indeed their children” I was in tears.
I knew I had to come out, and it was going to be hard. Luckily, I was graced with an accepting family, but even then, I witnessed ways in which my family, and some friends, began to evolve on the issue with the realization that someone they loved was queer. But ultimately, still the same person they had always loved.
“And when you do [come out], you will feel so much better,” Milk promised at the end of that speech.
I wasn’t so sure about that part, but he was right.
I no longer have to hide or feel shame about who I am, and instead of slinging sides of beef alongside bigots I make my full living as a writer and social media editor in queer media.
Turns out, even if you wait longer than you arguable should to come out, it’s never too late for things to start getting better.
Watch Milk’s speech below, and Happy National Coming Out Day to all you beautiful, out queer folks! Thanks for making the world a better place.
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