A quarter of a century ago, on October 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. A year later, the nation commemorated the historic event by celebrating the first annual National Coming Out Day. And in an increasingly digital world, millennials —who are seen to be leading the charge when it comes to the rights of LGBTQ Americans — are utilizing internet channels of communication (from GIFs to Twitter to Facebook to a new website built for just this purpose) to come out and be out.
While National Coming Out Day is hugely important to celebrate, allies must be sensitive to those who cannot come out for one reason for another, and strive to create a world in which being out is truly OK. Today, I am proud and happy come out as an ally. Today, I reaffirm that I will do whatever I can to help my LGBTQ-identified friends, even as I recognize that my role as an ally is to listen, to seek to understand and appreciate the challenges facing sexual minorities in America, and to act in a way that is respectful and helpful.
While most Americans believe that life is more difficult for out LGBTQ Americans, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, 34% of Americans believe that coming out is good for society as a whole. (18% believe it is detrimental to society.) Over the summer, Anderson Cooper sparked a national discussion about coming out, whether or not it is important for progress, and how non-LGBTQ people should understand the process and its significance.
Coming out is not without its difficulties. Even today, when Dan Savage (well known for the It Gets Better Project) shared his favorite video submission with MTV, he explained that he hesistates to urge all LGBTQ millennials to come out without first assessing what the impact of coming out will be in their lives.
"Coming out is not the solution to your problems," said Savage. "Coming out is often the beginning of new problems. Better problems, problems that once you've solved them, you'll be in a much better place, but coming out can really up-end your life."
Personally, I can remember feeling incredibly stupid as a teenager when a friend pointed out to me that coming out is not a one-time event, that it must happen over and over again, with friends, family, co-workers, peers, and so on. Call it privilege, because it was. I had never realized that there existed a coming out continuum. I'm not sure what exactly I thought coming out meant —I guess I pictured something like what happens in movies or on TV in which you sit down with your parents and closest friends and tell them the news —but it had somehow never occurred to me that coming out is continual, that every new person in your life is a person you have to come out to at some point. It was so obvious, and yet I had never thought about it.
Coming out is just one part of the process for true equality for LGBTQ Americans. As an ally, on this day, I pledge to do what I can to speed up or maintain that process.