I've thought a couple of times this week, as marriage equality became reality in more than half these United States (most recently Nevada and Idaho), of words spoken by the late, great Harvey Milk:
“Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop.... Once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters...."
Today is the 26th annual National Coming Out Day, and "coming out," as Milk advised, has been the most decisive factor in the advance of marriage equality and many other aspects of full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
It seems unlikely that any of these advances would have occurred were it not for brave souls who have stepped out and declared their personal realities, making it clear to the heterosexual majority that the minority included their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, cousins, neighbors and friends.
The first National Coming Out Day was celebrated on Oct. 11, 1988, on the date a year earlier when 500,000 people had assembled for the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The logo was contributed by Keith Haring, a talented young artist who died in 1990 of AIDS.
In many ways it's easier to come out these days, at least in the United States and other western nations. But there still are perils. Christian families still kick their gay kids onto the streets, preachers and politicians still rail against "homosexuals" behind many pulpits and podiums, employers in many states can fire gay workers at will, gay kids are bullied in the schools and beating up a gay guy still is looked upon as sport in some places. So anyone who is gay and still in the closet still has many things to consider before opening the door and stepping out.
Those of us who have been through the process understand that. But eventually it becomes necessary in order to live with integrity.