Friday, October 11, 2013

Choose love, come out ...

Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day --- 25th anniversary edition --- and the logo here, a design by Keith Haring, an artist whose imagery I admire who died during 1990 of AIDS-related causes.

The date was chosen 25 years ago because it is the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. That march, National Coming Out Day, World AIDS Day and much more emerged from the crucible of AIDS, when it became obvious that without visibility and without straight allies the heterosexual majority would be content to let their gay brethren die. Keep in mind that AIDS was viewed then as a "gay" disease; its potential as an equal-opportunity killer had yet to be fully realized.

Much has changed. AIDS is still with us, still a killer without a cure, but controllable to a degree with treatment. In places like Iowa, same-sex couples can marry --- unimaginable back then. LGBT people can serve openly in the military. Some states, many employers and many schools forbid anti-gay discrimination and bullying and work actively to root out the causes.

Much of the credit for all of this goes to visibility --- on one side because "out" LGBT people have ensured that nearly everyone now knows someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and has discovered that we're not extraordinary --- neither works of the devil nor absolutely fabulous.

On the other side, because "out" allies --- straight people --- have joined the fight for LGBT rights, embraced their gay family members and friends, stood up for them in legislative assemblies, churches and at school board meetings.

National Coming Out Day celebrates visibility.


But it isn't intended to be the day LGBT people still in the closet --- perhaps a majority still --- leap out, although some do. Coming out remains a complex process and the timing has to be a personal decision. 

The initial step, most gay people will tell you, involves coming out to one's self. That doesn't involve "choosing" to be gay, as many religious folks prefer to believe. Nearly everyone who is LGBT has been aware of their different-ness since childhood.

The need to acknowledge it, deal with parental and peer expectations, overcome the temptation to pretend to be something one isn't, transcend the fear of rejection and find resources and support --- especially in rural places like Lucas County ---  complicate the process. 

And in some situations --- still --- jobs can be lost, friends will fall away churches will cast out and families will disown. 

In most situations, especially now, worst fears are not realized --- but occasionally they are. So everyone who does come out needs to do so from as secure a place as can be managed, and be comfortable within his or her own skin. Age is not a factor. People come out at 80, 60, 40, 20 and 13. But as a rule it has to be in their own time.


Coming out as a straight ally has its challenges, too. It takes a brave straight soul, for example, to overcome residual discomfort, to speak out in a conservative church or among conservative friends, to challenge still-common casual expressions of homophobia rather than just letting them pass, to risk losing a friend or customer.

But in the end, there is no alternative other than to choose love.

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