This week, members of the LGBTQ community and their allies celebrate National Coming Out Day—an annual observance on October 11th that honors the process of “coming out of the closet” and publicly affirming one’s identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
As a gay man, I have a confession—I’ve honestly never celebrated NCOD in any meaningful way. I know that coming out is an important and powerful act for many individuals, and as a civil libertarian I think that increased visibility for the LGBT community correlates with the protection of our rights and expansion of our freedom. But still, on a personal level, this annual celebration hasn’t resonated for me in the way it might for others.
This might be because I was one of the lucky ones—when I came out ten years ago, my friends and family were immediately supportive. I was spared the isolation, shame, and rejection that so many suffer when they choose to acknowledge their identity in a public way. So in a way, I’ve been privileged enough to not think very much about coming out, for good or for ill.
But we know that this is not the case for so many others in the LGBT community. Despite the strides we’ve made legally and culturally, the world is not necessarily a safe place for those who choose to come out. Bullying, discrimination, physical harm—these still happen every day to people who’ve done nothing more than exercise their freedom of expression in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
At the ACLU we fight for legal rights, which are crucial, but as human beings, I think we also have an inherent need to feel real, to feel understood and accepted. LGBT people are sometimes forced to sacrifice all concepts of security and safety to fulfill these needs. I cannot sit by and shrug my shoulders at that sort of personal risk. Coming out is important, and it must be honored.
So this year, I’m casting off my ambivalence. I will reflect on and celebrate National Coming Out Day—to celebrate those who have found the courage to be themselves, to encourage those who aren’t there quite yet, and to mourn for those who suffered for doing so.
As another human who believes in equality and dignity, I encourage you to join me.