Celebrate National Coming Out Day

When LGBT activists organized National Coming Out Day in 1988, they hoped it would transform personal lives and change the political climate of the country.

The simple premise was that coming out fosters self-respect. It enhances honesty in our relationships with others. It increases the profile of gay people in families and communities, leading to greater understanding and inclusion.

Polling data show that individuals who know someone who is gay or trans are more likely to be supportive of fair treatment for LGBT people.

This year, as we observe National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, we can see the huge changes that have come about for LGBT people.

In 2016, it seems as though everyone knows someone who has come out of the closet to declare their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Same sex marriage, a distant dream of the Stonewall generation of the late 1960s, has become a legal reality.

Trans people are demanding rights and respect along with lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans. Our language itself is changing, with new pronouns being adopted to reflect the multiplicity of identities celebrated today.

However, the act of coming out that helped fuel this social revolution also contributes to a continuing backlash. Despite advances, many LGBT individuals still struggle against discrimination and hatred.

Teens who identify as LGBT make up a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth. Many have been cast out of their homes by disapproving family members. LGBT youth are at greater risk for bullying and physical abuse than are their non-LGBT peers.

The number of hate crimes motivated by animus toward a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (1,288 in 2014) is second only to the number of racially motivated crimes, according to the FBI.

Studies estimate that 20–30 percent of LGBT people struggle with alcohol and drug abuse compared to about 10 percent of the non-LGBT population.

Thanks to the growth of our movement, we now have LGBT community centers throughout the country that address these and many other needs of LGBT kids, teens, adults and seniors.

National Coming Out Day is a good occasion to donate to the LGBT centers in our communities. It’s a way of paying back for the freedom we’ve obtained and paying forward for a better life for those still making their way.

The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center is holding its annual Big Night Out fundraising event on Oct. 14 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. For more information, visit mkelgbt.org.

Meanwhile, the spirit of affirmation that animates National Coming Out Day is still needed. For LGBT people, there’s always someone new to come out to. Non-LGBTs can help by creating an accepting space in which their friends and loved ones can be themselves.

We need to continue the momentum of the LGBT rights movement by coming out to friends, family and colleagues. We need to ensure that the historical path toward LGBT equality is irreversible.