Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Leafing through my notebook’s list of recurring, annual observances recently, I noticed that National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is coming right along soon, and I started thinking about that.

Some major urban gay community centers and gay groups on college campuses organize an event where lots of people announce that they are gay or lesbian.

Something seems empowering (or protective) about coming out in the midst of a group or at a formal event.

Actually, I suspect that many of the people participating in those events are to some extent “out of the closet” already, but perhaps NCOD events encourage people to be a little more open in their lives, as well as publicize the existence of a considerable number of gays—of which most people remain oblivious.

It probably has a similar educative effect on the closeted gays and lesbians who might be standing around on the periphery watching what is going on. Reaching our closeted fellow gays is as important as reaching heterosexuals.

If we are to make substantial political progress, we need to make ourselves ever more visible. People have to get to know us. They need to find out that we don’t fit whatever stereotypes they hold about gays, and that in many cases, we are people they already know.

They need to be alerted to a greater awareness that—in many cases—we have partners we cannot legally marry; that the hard-pressed US military rejects our skills; and that AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health seems to have stalled.

Some people would add the importance of nondiscrimination laws, but I confess, I never have seen any good data on how many people are fired from jobs because they are gay.

Decades ago, I came out at the small factory in a small town where I worked with no obvious repercussions. My redneck foreman seemed more curious than anything else, and coworkers’ attitudes toward me didn’t change.

So, it may be that now, by 2008, there is far more fear of coming out than is actually justified.

Coming out is particularly important in California right now, where our right to civil marriage is subject to a vote. The more people who know us and like us, the more likely they are to vote to preserve gay marriage.

In my home state of Illinois, if we ever are to obtain marriage equality, more of us need to make ourselves known to more people, especially in minority and Eastern European communities that remain repositories of culturally encrusted homophobia.

Coming out is an act of community benevolence. Each person who comes out makes it slightly easier for the next man or woman by acquainting more people with gays. Remember that we all found it easier to come out because people had come out before us, and made the path that much smoother.

Then, too, coming out becomes easier every day, because old people, disproportionately ignorant of, or hostile to gays, gradually are dying off, and are being replaced by younger people who are increasingly accepting of gays. This acceptance by young people is true even among younger religious evangelicals. The era of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is over: Young people are not listening.

Most people picking up a gay publication and reading this probably already are out to some people. The goal is to come out to more people—in your family, as well as among your coworkers, your friends, and your fellow church members. Here are some ideas that may be useful:

• Avoid a big announcement. Treat any disclosure as casually as possible, as if the other person already knew you were gay, and you just are mentioning it explicitly in some context or other. People will take a cue for their own attitude from your attitude.

• Try to come out in connection with something positive about yourself, some accomplishment in connection with being gay, so you are inviting the other person to share your happiness.

• Immunize yourself against moralistic disapproval. Fight back against it, or laugh at it. If someone says he or she disapproves of homosexuality, simply tell him or her not to engage in it. If someone quotes the Apostle Paul in the Bible, just say, “Oh, yeah, that’s the guy who said slaves should stay with their masters, and sent a slave back to his owner.” Or, try, “I’m more interested in Jesus than Paul.”

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