Celebrate National Coming Out Day

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I’d like to see National Coming Out Day become a much bigger celebration.

Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) was launched in 1988 to mark the first anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, an event that brought a half million gays and supporters to the capital and featured the first showing of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

It was the height of the AIDS crisis and a time when the Moral Majority was crusading against the supposed “evils” of homosexuality and the first legal protections won by the LGBT civil rights movement.

Organizers saw Coming Out Day as part of a proactive strategy in which individuals could strike a blow for the larger movement by taking the very personal step of coming out to family members, friends or colleagues.

Polling data then and now consistently shows that individuals who know someone who is gay are more likely to support fair treatment for LGBT people.

Since the first Coming Out Day, progress has been achieved on a number of fronts. With dozens of celebrities out of the closet and Pride celebrations observed across America, it’s easy to think that the hardest part of the struggle is over.

Then you hear a raft of heartbreaking stories about children and teenagers killing themselves after being hounded for being gay and you wonder if anything has really changed.

I’d like to see National Coming Out Day reinvigorated and celebrated as our second national holiday. I think coming-out stories are needed as much as they ever were, to give hope to LGBT kids struggling with self-doubt and peer pressure.

I’m a sucker for a good coming-out story, and I’ve got a few of my own to share.

When I was 21, I came out to my mother. She started crying and I tried to comfort her by assuring her it was not her “fault.” But that’s not why she was crying. My revelation had triggered her own memories of a relationship she had had with a man years before (my father died when I was young). She had never talked about this relationship with anyone and the gentleman had since died. Whoa. Coming out to mom opened up communication channels and emotional depths I had never reached with her before.

I had a hilarious coming-out experience with a boss in my early 20s, when I was assistant manager at a convenience store in Milwaukee. The franchise was sold to a couple who hired their 19-year-old son to manage it. Not only was he incompetent, but he frequently made racist and homophobic remarks about customers.

One day, I allowed a customer to use the store’s rest room. My boss was furious and approached me at the counter, yelling: “Why are you letting some goddamn fag piss in my bathroom?” That was it. I yelled back: “Well, this goddamn dyke has been pissing in your bathroom for the past six months!”

The look on his face was priceless. He fired me a few weeks later for undermining his authority, which I’ve always thought is the most admirable thing to be fired for. I got unemployment for a while and went on to finish college and hold much better jobs.

The moral of the story is: come out to someone you love, or even to someone you hate. It will change your life and help to change the world.

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