this Coming Out Day, I may be straight, but I’m scared

maybe you should be, too

On this day in 1987, I was six years old and most likely had no idea what “gay” and “lesbian” were, much less queer, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, intersex, asexual, demisexual…. A lot has come into the common discourse in four decades. A lot of awareness has been raised and progress has been made. A lot of people have fought and died for that progress, continue to fight and die.

On this day in 1987, after a quarter century of organizing, the The National Gay Mobilizing Committee for a March on Washington (NGMC) brought around 100,000 gays, lesbians and their allies to Washington, DC, for the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

That’s why psychologist Robert Eichberg and activist Jean O’Leary chose this day in 1988 as National Coming Out Day.

Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.

– Robert Eichberg, in 1993

Eichberg felt very strongly, and not uncontroversially, that the key to gaining equal human rights and representation for gay and lesbian Americans was making everyone aware that someone they loved was impacted by this fight. This appeal to the heart is, arguably, what turned the tide for marriage equality. Unfortunately, coming out can also be hurtful, ostracizing or even dangerous for many LGBTQ+ people to come out, even to the people who seem to love them the most. And while we’ve made a lot of progress, recently there have been some serious setbacks.

A Supreme Court ruling sanctioning same-sex marriage in 2015 was hailed as a milestone moment that would see discrimination crumble and equality triumph for LGBT couples — and for their children.

But in the past three years, those parents and kids have faced a brewing backlash that threatens everything from health benefits to a couple’s ability to adopt.

– 3 years after same-sex marriage ruling

In 28 states, coming out can still get you fired, and lots of other cruel consequences. In 2017, more than 120 bills described as “anti-L.G.B.T.” were introduced across 30 states, including adoption laws and so-called bathroom bills, according to the Human Rights Campaign. By January 2018, twelve of them had become law. The future is especially uncertain for foster children, queer and trans students, not to mention the escalating murder rate of trans people, particularly women.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s also been a good year for our LGBTQ+ siblings in some ways. Celebrities have been coming out as bisexual, pansexual, asexual, nonbinary, gender fluid, a “free-ass motherfucker“…. Trans actors are making some (but insufficient) gains. Politically, candidates from across the rainbow and across the country are winning victories in primary elections:

  • In Vermont, Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman, won the Democratic primary to be governor.
  • In Virginia, Danica Roem, a transgender woman, was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates last November.
  • In Ohio, Rick Neal, a gay man with an interracial family, won his Democratic congressional primary.
  • In Arizona, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a bisexual woman, won her Democratic primary for a critical seat replacing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.
  • Debra Haaland in New Mexico and Sharice Davids in Kansas, both gay Native American women, won Democratic congressional primaries. (Murders of Native American women are also on the rise this year.)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But it’s also just the primaries. I remember feeling this optimistic about the future of my country at this time in 2016, and look how that turned out!

It seems like every day there’s another affront to LGBTQ+ Americans coming up on social media from the work of Lambda Legal (Facebook | Twitter), as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center (Facebook | Twitter), American Civil Liberties Union (Facebook | Twitter), and my broad range of queer friends and activists across the country (and the world). I’m not just an online warrior (though I am!) and an erstwhile marcher, a compassionate listener and a secret keeper — I’m a contributor to legal defense funds, too (Lamdbda | SPLC | ACLU), because the courts are still sometimes bending the moral arc. 

I’m not just afraid. I’m fighting.

But I am afraid — not for me, but for people I love and respect. And I want you to be concerned, too.

More than that, I want you to join me in trying to do something about it. There are a lot of ways places you can spend time and energy in that pursuit (and I’ve written about some of them before) but there’s one thing you must do above all:

You must vote!

There’s nothing with more potential to hurt and help larger numbers of the vulnerable than the law. We must do all the things — listen, learn, speak up, give money, spend time, protest, educate, put our bodies and our relationships and our futures on the line, everything! — but your vote — if you’re allowed to vote, still registered to vote, able to vote, can get to the polls, and are motivated to vote — is your superpower.

Use it.

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