Monday is National Coming Out Day.
A dear friend asked if I thought Harvey Milk was right about coming out. Is it a responsibility?
My initial answer wasn’t enough, and it continues to weigh on me.
I think Harvey Milk was right that coming out helps. In a world where everyone is assumed to be heterosexual until announced otherwise, it does help break down assumptions. Coming out is a way of demystifying our differences and places us, ideally, on the road to truly celebrating our diversity. If I don’t know anyone who is gay or bisexual or transgendered, I may make certain assumptions based on popular culture. Until one day my best friend Jimmy comes to me and says, “I’m gay.” I know Jimmy. I’ve known Jimmy for years. He’s not like this or that, he’s just Jimmy. If Jimmy is gay, maybe gay people are just like heterosexual people. I think that’s the ideal situation, and it can’t happen if Jimmy stays in the closet.
The thing is, it shouldn’t matter. For heterosexual people, we don’t have to come out. Everyone is assumed straight, and there’s no risk or rewards, we just get to be “regular.” We, as a society, have to completely rework our framework for understanding sexual orientation. The current standard is heterosexual, and anything beyond or outside of that is different and somehow less worthy of our respect or otherwise deserves separate treatment. (I’d go further and suggest that anything outside of cis-gendered, heterosexual, masculine, white man is the standard of personhood.) Until that time comes, when it doesn’t matter who I love, or sleep with, or want to marry, or am allowed to marry, I think coming out is something each of us can do for the movement and for building support and breaking barriers.
As to whether it’s the responsibility of anyone to come out, I don’t know. Each of us has to make that decision on our own, based on what is important to us, and if we have the support necessary. That being said, that decision is not only for members of the LGBTQ community. We all carry that burden.
I am a proud, straight ally.
I will not sit idly by while people are denied fundamental civil rights or barred from serving their country or are treated as second-class citizens in any way. I will not watch from the sidelines as those among us are beaten and brutalized for who they are. If you want to make change, be an ally. Create safe spaces. Nurture environments where coming out is not an act of fear, but of love. Let others know, by your words and actions that you are an ally.
So arm in arm
We’ll fight them down
With all our pride
Don’t let them tell you
Who you cannot love