Twenty-three years ago today, I was in Washington, DC for the 1987 March on Washington, the very first Coming Out Day. The poster still hangs on the wall behind my desk.
I was 22 years old and had come out three years earlier. Standing in the midst of the tremendous crowds pouring into the National Mall from all directions gave me an entirely new vision of what it meant to be queer (the word I used to describe myself then), at a time when we were far less visible than we are now. We had strength, we were beautiful, we were proud, and we still are. We were also in mourning as we watched the beautiful Names Project Quilt squares covering the Mall, commemorating those whose lives were lost to AIDS.
It is hard to say what direct impact that March may have had on policy makers, but I know for sure that it had a life changing effect on me and thousands of others as we have worked in the years since then to expand our rights, to care for those who struggle, and to build a better world for all of us.
Through the years since then, working in the LGBT community, I’ve had the opportunity to see the incredible transformations that happen over and over when we come out. I’ve sat with parents who were once openly hostile to gay people who ended up as passionate PFLAG moms and dads within a couple of years of their children coming out. I’ve seen straight people who were neutral on LGBT rights until one of their friends came out and now they stand up for our rights time and time again. I know clergy who came to question the homophobia and transphobia they were taught once they realized that a member of their community of faith was transgender, lesbian, gay or bisexual; their care for that person led them to look more deeply at their faith to find love instead of condemnation. I’ve sat in lawmakers’ offices as they listened as a constituent told them about what our lives are like, as they put a human face on a bill that they are considering.
Deciding when and how to tell our stories is a very individual decision; it is also a very powerful choice. It is, ultimately, an affirmation of our human connection with one another. So, whether you are deciding to tell someone for the very time or if you can’t think of who else to come out to, Happy Coming Out Day. May it be liberating for you and transformative for our world.