Reflecting on National Coming Out Day

The air was crisp that October morning. The sun was bright and the sky was blue. It was the perfect Autumn day.

We gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Several hundred of us broke bread and shared the cup as we recalled the gift of freedom we experienced as people of faith and the right to personal liberty we shared as citizens of the United States. Following the communion service, we joined others who would march to claim the right to liberty and equal justice. It was October 11, 1987: the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the first National Coming Out Day.

In 1987, Ronald Reagan was president. He had successfully avoided addressing the AIDS pandemic that took a heavy toll in the gay men’s community. That year alone, over two dozen of my friends had died. The Names Project with the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed on the National Mall. People living with HIV/AIDS led the march with hundreds of thousands of people following after them. While a large gay wedding took place in front of the IRS building to demonstrate against the injustice of marriage inequity, the main concern on most marchers’ minds was the impact of AIDS on the community and the related backlash of homophobia. In 1987, it was common to see bumper stickers with slogans like, “AIDS is a punishment from God.”

The commitment made the marchers visible in society from that day forward. The theme was borrowed from the children’s game, hide and go seek: “Come out, come out wherever you are!” It was this commitment that gave birth to National Coming Out Day. Society needed to see and recognize that lesbian and gay people were among their neighbors, coworkers, clergy, doctors, teachers … yes, in every walk of life. Through visibility would come a better societal understanding that we, too, were citizens wanting nothing more than equal rights and deserving nothing less than fundamental respect.

Twenty-four years since that march, there have been many changes. Visibility has led to greater respect and more legal protection for gay and lesbian people. People in the United States are more aware of the presence of gay and lesbian people in society than they once were. There is also growing awareness of the lack of equality transsexual people face. Yet, hatred and homophobia are still very much present in American society. While the hatred is increasingly relegated to members of older generations and those who practice conservative brands of Christianity, far too many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people remain victims of violence, discrimination, and abuse. Perhaps the most evil forms of violence and abuse are by those who in the name of a deity made in their own image attempt to pray away the gay rather than face the truth that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are simply born that way – just as heterosexual people are born the way they are. In the face of such vitriolic pietism, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) need to stand in prophetic witness to the truth that diversity of sexual orientation is just as normal and natural as diversity in hair color or diversity in racial background.

Lessons from the Second March on Washington in 1987 and the importance of visibility are significant for today beyond the lives of LGBT people. Political and religious conservative extremists have been out, loud, and proud claiming to speak for all people in the United States. Instead, they are a minority seeking special rights with the perverse agenda of imposing their views of history, science, religion, and economic policy on the majority of people in this country. Fair minded, thinking people need to be visible and speak up against the lunacy that questions science from a position of ignorance, that challenges just treatment of people from a position of bigotry, and that challenges basic concepts of fair play from a position where the politically strong and wealthy exploit others with impunity.

National Coming Out Day: It’s not just for gays and lesbians anymore! Rather than hiding in closets afraid to speak, mainstream Americans who hold views of fair-mindedness need to come out, to be visible. People who believe that others are guaranteed the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness need to come out, come out wherever you are. Make your voices heard in your families, places of work, houses of worship, and all the other venues where people need to be reminded that the American way respects the rights of others rather than selfishly grabbing onto the rewards of life for oneself.

I’m proud to have been present for the March on Washington on October 11, 1987. And today, I am proud to come out as a rational, thinking person who believes that in the wealthiest nation in the world, there is no need for growing rates of poverty, unemployment, and treatable diseases. As a fair minded rational person, I understand that the problems which face the nation are solvable. But the solution will require giving up values of greed and returning to the basic values we learned in kindergarten: to share with others and to play fair. Yes, I am proud to come out to support the common good of our society.

© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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