National Coming Out Day: A Modern American Ritual Rooted In Cultural Conflict

October 11th is National Coming Out Day.  Unlike the Gay Pride marches and festivities you see around the country (typically on the last Sunday in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village that sparked the gay rights movement), National Coming Out day is a more awareness and empathy oriented commemoration.

According to about.com on gay life, National Coming Out day ” was founded by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary on October 11, 1988 in celebration of the second gay march in Washington D.C. a year earlier. The purpose of the march and of National Coming Out Day is to promote government and public awareness of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender rights and to celebrate homosexuality.  National Coming Out Day is a time to publicly display gay pride. Many choose this day to come out to their parents, friends, co-workers and themselves.”

When I was the President of The GLBT Student Union at the University of Central Florida “back in the day”, we started a National Coming Out Day Tradition in the city of Orlando called “A Light In The Closet”.  It was initially a campus-centric event that ended up evolving to an event at City Hall every October 11th.  The purpose:  a candle-light vigil for those who are unable to come out of the closet to due an oppressive work, school, family or community envirionment, accompanied by a stream of coming-out stories told by both locals as we well as celebrity guest speakers.

The New York Times did an interactive piece last year in light of the bullying phenomenon that has caused an over-index of gay teen suicides (compared to their “straight” peers) which includes coming out stories in audio, photo and video:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/05/23/us/20110523-coming-out.html
National Coming Out Day is a very American creation.  On one hand, we live in a country where we have the political freedom to speak our minds and points of view, hence allowing a “celebration” like this to rapidly grow into a mainstream phenomenon.  But we also live in a social reality driven in large part by fear.  In Sociology we reference Conflict Theory, which states that society only functions properly when there is an “us” and an “other”, so we have a “fight” to keep us unified.   The issue here is that gays and lesbians are still overcoming their designation as “other”.

So I encourage everyone to take a look around at their context today and find the gays and lesbians in their life and ask them about their story and try to empathize.  Chances are you have someone in your family, social circle or workplace who is Gay or Lesbian.   And if you are a Gay or Lesbian who is still in the closet…take a chance and tell somebody.  Come out and be proud of who you are:  every part of you.  Your sexual orientation is not the sum total of your identity but it is a part of who you are and you have a right to find love and be loved and accepted.

Be brave and presume the best in people.  They will likely surprise you.  Because we are all part of the “us”.   The “other” is totally made up.  We need not live in fear.  Lets evolve.  Lets come out.

 

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