National Coming Out Day: Why Coming Out Still Matters

It's National Coming Out Day (NCOD). So I'm coming out today. Again. I've been out for a long time, but it bears repeating on a day like today, especially since it's the 25th Anniversary of NCOD. 

If you're straight, you might wonder what the big deal is. If you've been out forever, you may have forgotten how daunting it can seem. But regardless of who you are, coming out is vital. In fact, this year's NCOD theme is "Coming Out Still Matters."

To come out is to be visible. It's much harder to ignore a reality that is right in front of you. Being out makes it harder for stereotypes to thrive. It's far more difficult to hate someone whose story you know. As Human Rights Campaign (HRC) put it, "When people know someone who is LGBT, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other."

That is why visibility is key. It's easy to hate "them" or "those people." It's much harder to hate your favorite teacher, or neighborhood doctor, or cousin. Not impossible, unfortunately. But certainly more difficult. 

To come out is political. There are still changes to be made, laws to put on the books, and other laws to overturn. Coming out is like voting. It's like standing up and saying, "I matter. I'm here. I'm real. And the laws should honor and respect who I am and who I love."

"We live in a heteronormative society that assumes that if you don't come out, you're straight. So if you want your identity to be recognized, coming out is necessary," explains Dr. Darcy Sterling. Being political isn't just a matter of lobbying and voting and donating money and campaigning, although those things are important, too. Being political is about making your voice heard. Coming out speaks volumes.

To come out is to live honestly. In a world where so many people, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, "lead lives of quiet desperation" and go to the grave "with the song still in them," it can be life changing — and life saving — to tell your truth and sing your song.

According to HRC's Coming Out Center, "Whether it's for the first time ever, or for the first time today, coming out and living openly as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person or a supportive ally is an act of bravery and authenticity." As much of a challenge as coming out can be, in many, many instances, staying in the closet is far more painful in the long run. Constantly attempting to be someone you're not is perhaps the most exhausting, fruitless, and dire thing a person can do.

To come out is not just for you. When one person comes out, it tells other people that coming out is OK. Coming out is not just for the person doing it, but also for all the people who need and want to, but are scared. It also helps future generations. "I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore," basketball player Jason Collins said of his own coming out. "I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, 'Me, too.'"

Coming out is about setting an example. When we stay in the closet, we are saying that it's OK to live a lie. When we come out, we show others that that is the only way to really live. To come out is to validate the LGBT community. Staying in the closet says, "There's something wrong with me and there's something wrong with the community. So I must hide who I am."

"Straight people need to know real queer people, not just characters on TV," explains writer Kate Conger. "When straight people know and love queer people, they're less likely to participate in homophobia. Instead, they might speak up when they hear a homophobic comment. They might vote against a politician who pushes a homophobic agenda."

When we come out, we are saying, "Look at me. Look at the reality of me. This is me. This is who I am. I'm OK with it, and there's no reason why you shouldn't be OK with it too."

Everyone has the right to come out when they feel it's right, and not all coming out stories will be happy ones. Coming out is as personal as it is political. Every individual has to decide who to come out to, and when. But the world is a big place that's still filled with unnecessary hate. The only way to change that is to tell our stories. To be strong. To be proud. To be unapologetic about who we are.

If you're gay, consider coming out today. If you're straight, support your LGBT friends and family and coworkers. And no matter who you are, don't forget that the truth is always the best way to make peace with yourself, others, and the world at large.