“The Closet and The Cafeteria”: Quorum Allows Our Community To Come Out by Speaking Up
Jimmy, son of James and Mary, rises, clears his throat. He’s back for the first time since beginning his freshman year in the big city college, back for Thanksgiving dinner, and the kid is sweaty. Most of the gathered figure his glisten-inducing unease is caused by the pressure of being promoted from the kids’ card table in the basement, but cool Aunt Flo knows better. Jimmy stands on feet made of slush, wringing hands made of steam, and cool Aunt Flo realizes the kid is about to confirm what she has suspected since her nephew was five years old.
Jimmy clears his throat a second time, and the tingle of silver ceases, the tinkle of glasses stops…even Cousin Louie’s incessant complaining about the Detroit Lions lapses. Jimmy says his piece, and his piece is met by gasps and groans and camouflaging coughs. Jimmy’s face is a mask of regret, his eyes darting from face to face to face, looking for even a scintilla of sympathy in a fog cluttered with confusion and general harumphiness. Cool Aunt Flo’s nephew is in trouble, the kind of trouble that cannot be undone but can be superseded. Cool Aunt Flo rises: it’s time, she decides, way past time, that she said her piece, too.
According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, “Coming out of the closet, often shortened to coming out, is a metaphor used to describe [LGBTQ+] people’s self-disclosure of their sexual orientation, romantic orientation, or gender identity.” Those who don’t have to go through it think of coming out as a one-and-done proposition–“I’m stuffing my ‘friend’ Roy, please pass the yams” –but those of who have lived some version of Jimmy’s harrowing experience know that what most people think of as coming out is actually a self-disclosure that will be echoed countless times during a rainbow-skating lifetime.
Coming out is therefore baked into every subsequent life change—as monumental as moving to a new town, settling into a new neighborhood, beginning a new job, or enrolling in a new school or as sanguine as meeting a new neighbor or a new friend-of-a-friend—invariably, the lesbian will mention her girlfriend, or the gay guy will mention his husband and sis, boom, bah, rah, rah, rah, they’ve come out of the closet for the eleventy jillionth time. Whatever penalty is paid by such disclosure, however, is a pittance compared to the toll taken by keeping their love a secret.
This calculation is the core concept of National Coming Out Day, first observed by a scrappy few in the era of Gordon Gekko’s greed-is-gooding and John McClane’s yippie-ki-yaying—we’re talkin’ the year 1988. The October 11th date was chosen because that had been the date of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights just one year earlier. That makes this year’s iteration of National Coming Out Day the thirtieth.
The “Minnesota” part implied by the “National” in National Coming Out Day has, for twenty-five of the past thirty years, been handled by Quorum, an organization which describes itself as “Minnesota’s LGBTQ+ and Allied Chamber of Commerce.” That means it works to make Minnesota’s business community writ large a fully-inclusive one, as well as emphasizing visibility for those included. Toward that end, Quorum provides forty-or-so annual networking opportunities with themes that include “Catalyzing Community Growth,” “Out After Work,” and “Women’s Leadership Roundtable.” Quorum thusly “builds, connects and strengthens Minnesota’s LGBTQ+ and Allied business community.”
Oh, and it also hosts “the premier NCOD event in the country,” according to Quorum’s website.
The event has gotten big over the decades, as in Minneapolis Convention Center Big. National Coming Out Day will be observed by Quorum on October 13th—Friday, the 13th, to be precise, a date that inspires fear in the superstitious…and articulation in the astute. “When we noticed that the luncheon would take place on Friday, the 13th, we decided to embrace that,” reveals Quorum’s Executive Director, Rebecca Waggoner. “We made this year’s National Coming Out Day theme, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’”
The luncheon itself begins at 11:45am and lasts until 1:30p. The first three speakers signed have each answered the question posed by the theme’s question: Kelsey Waits turned the cruel outing of her eight-year-old non-binary child into an avocation of activism and alliance; Doctor Angela Goepferd, Children’s Minnesota’s chief education officer, founded of Children’s Minnesota’s Gender Clinic; and Belo Cipriani, a writer who founded Oleb Media, a digital inclusion firm, as well as Oleb Books, a publishing house focused on writers with disabilities after being disabled himself. Cipriani was permanently blinded by a Castro District gay bashing.
Each speaker tells the story of transforming fear of rejection into brave and constructive action…much like anyone who comes out for the first time. “It’s always an act of bravery,” says Waggoner, “to hold your real self up for the world to see.” Further, every coming out contributes to the creation of an atmosphere where such self-disclosure is a little easier for the next pioneer.
Even after thirty years, coming out remains vitally relevant—more so than ever, according to Quorum’s executive director. “It can’t be overstated,” Waggoner insists. “Visibility for the community has never been more critical.” While such visibility often destroys stereotype, it can do so in unexpected ways. “I look like a suburban soccer mom,” Rebecca Waggoner laughs. “No one would guess that I’m a lesbian!”
Coming out starts as a single event that’s repeated again and again, becoming an unlikely tradition unto itself–the times around that tradition might change, but the tradition remains the same…even while it moves forward. As Quorum puts it on their website, “We hope you will join us as our community celebrates the strength, courage and wisdom of LGBTQ+ and Allied people who have braved their own unique journeys to now live openly and authentically…and with pride.”
Quorum’s 2023 National Coming Out Day Luncheon
Friday, October 13 – 11:45 AM-1:30 PM, Marketplace Expo starts at 10:00 AM-2:00 PM
Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis
Tickets: $60 for Quorum Members, $75 for non-members