Recognizing the importance of National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out day.  I did a little bit of research about this civil holiday and found that it is borne out of the event of the first march on Washington by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender people (LGBT).  The march was on October 11, 1987 and signifies the LGBT community’s struggle for acceptance in society.  Every October 11 since then has recognized this message.  The purpose of National Coming Out Day is to promote honesty and openness about being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (read more: http://www.qrd.org/qrd/www/orgs/avproject/NCOD.htm).  I think this is a courageous, outstanding, and respectable event for all of us to bring to our awareness, especially after the recent tragic deaths of four teenage boys who committed suicide after being bullied for their sexual orientation.

I have written before about the dangers of social media and how this ‘instant connection’ we have through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other sites can interrupt honest communication and can promote misunderstanding and bias.  I do have to say that today I am encouraged to see many people post to their Facebook accounts messages about being advocates for the LGBT community: (______) is a straight ally and today is National Coming Out Day. Donate your status and join me in coming out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality by clicking here: http://bit.ly/9xGNV2.  I have seen a few people come out today on Facebook, garnering love, support, and empathy from their friends and family.  No matter when or how one decides to come out, it can be risky as you cannot predict the reactions from those you open yourself up to — especially on a social media network.  Brave and confident souls, I commend you and support you!

The New York Times online blog writes today about the challenges of coming out to parents and loved ones…and how it has never been easy, even without social media.  Coming out can be intimidating for the gay/lesbian family member, as they may fear if they will still be accepted and loved after this revelation.  The recipient of the news may also go through emotions, feelings, resentments, regrets, and all sorts of other reactions to the news – especially if their son/daughter/parent had waited many years to open up.  In the NYT blog, an adult daughter talks about her trepidation about coming out to her mother, and how she felt the only way she could do it, at age 28, was to write her mother a letter and mail it across the country.

The uncertainty of being accepted or judged by family members can escalate into anxiety, depression, anger, and sometimes tragedy.  After Tyler Clementi’s suicide last month after his roommates unjustly exposed him to the internet, his parents have come forward and said that they did not know he was gay.  I can only imagine the complexity and anguish that must have been going on in Tyler’s mind and my heart goes out to him and his family.  Perhaps, with the right circumstances, Tyler could have opened up to his family and his path would have shifted from secrecy about who he is to openness and self acceptance.  But we will never know what “could have been”, and it’s tormenting to imagine that now.  We DO have the choice to change the way we judge, treat, and criticize people who are different from “the mainstream” and we CAN make this world a more understanding place for every type of person who lives in this diverse society.

Today, I embrace each one of my friends and family members who are of the LGBT community, whether they are open about their sexual orientation or not.  I am an ally to each one of you as a friend or as a counselor.  Today, on National Coming Out Day we must all lend our voices in support of the LGBT community, because there are plenty of people who still judge and attack them.  On some message boards today, there are plenty of comments — those supporting National Coming Out Day, and those who believe it should not matter.  There still is bigotry in this society, and it is unfortunate to see.  However, there is also a lot of progress in accepting multiculturalism and diversity.

This day is a chance for those who have never felt safe to embrace who they are, and for those who have confidence to give their hand to those less sure about being out.