National Coming Out Day 2010

Today marks the 23rd annual National Coming Out Day! Quick history: NCOD is held on the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which included the first time the massive AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed:

 

 

NCOD is not, really, the concrete deadline to tell the world about your orientation or identity. Coming out — to yourself, to some, to everyone — is gradual, and it happens when it’s important; if you don’t have your speech prepared today, you don’t need to spend the next 365 writing and revising. Today is an occasion for LGBTQ people and their allies to congratulate the people who have decided to come out, to support those who someday wish to, and to make safe that first step out of the closet and into the world at large.

In Omaha, tonight we’re having a picnic in the park to celebrate the occasion. Tomorrow morning, UNO’s Gender and Sexual Orientation Student Agency (GSO) is bringing in speakers and sponsoring a simple open-mic event for people to share and listen to coming out stories. Obviously, participation is optional, but if you’re passing the student center’s Fireplace Lounge between 11 and 12:30, stop by and have a listen. I’ll be there, ’cause I’m skipping class. 🙂

There are lots of people who question the need to come out, to declare your orientation or your gender identity to the world. And some, I agree, really don’t “need” to come out, being comfortable with who they are, not considering it a big deal, not feeling hindered or silenced. Think of all the conversations we have about crushes and dates and spouses, though; if you’re a man dating another man, these simple conversations can be off-limits. Joining in means coming out to your social group; sometimes, not joining in makes them suspect your orientation, or at least a lack of sexual prowess. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Everyone who comes out — even as an ally — contributes to the realization that LGBTQ people, though a minority, are a valid one; it brings normalcy and respect to their social interactions and legal rights. And if you’re an ally, coming out also normalizes the idea that people can be LGBTQ allies without being LGBTQ themselves. This is important (think of the schoolyard). And right now, it seems very important.

Stealing Harvey Milk quotes:

Gay brothers and sisters,… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene. (June 25th, 1978)

But if you’re queer, I don’t think you have a duty to your people to come out, and I don’t think you should unless you want to and you feel you’re ready. There are many people who have and are paving the road for you, so there’s no deadline and the consequences are fewer and more positive. NCOD is a time to cheer for the people who are out, for them and everyone to cheer for everyone who isn’t, and for a few people, it is their coming-out day. For everyone involved, good luck and enjoy it!

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