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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Congratulations on National Coming Out Day 2012
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 10/10/12
Last updated on: 10/11/12
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Congratulations to all who are celebrating National Coming Out Day on October 11, 2012. The holiday is a day of celebration, but it is also a day to assess the continuing stigmatization of gay youth, who are often bullied and intimidated by their peers and by religious and political leaders. This year's observance emphasizes the importance of straight allies.

National Coming Out day was first observed in 1988. Inspired by the success of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987, Jean O'Leary, then Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Rights Advocates, joined with psychologist Rob Eichberg to create an event that would increase the visibility of glbtq people and encourage those previously silent to make their voices heard.

The symbol of National Coming Out Day is Keith Haring's iconic image of a person joyously bursting from a closet. It underscores the individual nature of this step, fosters solidarity among those who have made it, and offers hope to those who, for whatever reason, have not yet been able to kick open the door.

Over the years, National Coming Out Day has drawn many celebrity spokespersons, including Billy Bean, Amanda Bearse, Chastity Bono, Dan Butler, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Candace Gingrich, RuPaul, Muffin Spencer-Devlin, Michael Stipe, and Rufus Wainwright, among others. Allies, including Betty DeGeneres, the mother of Ellen DeGeneres and the project's first heterosexual spokesperson, Cher, and Cyndi Lauper, have also lent their voices to the effort.

National Coming Out Day has become a joyous occasion, particularly on college campuses, where young people are able to discover community and support. At the same time, however, the continuing problem of suicide among gay youths, who are often subjected to bullying and spiritual terrorism, means that this holiday is also a time of contemplation and reflection.

The Human Rights Campaign, along with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), have stressed the significance of straight people coming out as gay allies in 2012.

Straight supporters are so important to our fight for full equality for LGBT Americans," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "Just as it takes an incredible amount of courage to come out as LGBT, it also takes courage to stand up and say, I am a straight supporter."

PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby said, "PFLAG was founded by Jeanne Manford, the Mother of the Straight Ally movement, 40 years ago: a time when standing up and saying 'I have a gay son,' or 'I have a lesbian friend' was unheard of. Since she came out as an ally, we've seen the power of parent allies in PFLAG, and friends and colleagues through our Straight for Equality project."

PFLAG has published a guide for straight supporters to build bridges of understanding when someone they know comes out to them. The guide answers initial questions and shares facts, strategies, and ways to show support for glbtq equality.

The guide is released as a growing chorus of high-profile heterosexuals have spoken out in support of glbtq equality. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, actors Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, singer Beyonce Knowles, Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates, musicians Jason Mraz and Carrie Underwood, and many more have joined millions of everyday straight supporters who have stood up for their glbtq friends and relatives.

In an interesting article in the New York Times, John Schwartz recently offered an unusual perspective on National Coming Out Day, that of a parent of a child who has not yet come out.

Schwartz writes, "Some people approach this particular square on the calendar with pride and courage, others with trepidation. Then there's a third group, which gazes at the day with an uncomfortable blend of longing and impatience. These are parents who know, deep down inside, that a son or daughter is almost certainly gay, but hasn't worked up the nerve to open up about it. And many of them want to scream, 'Would you just come out, already?'"

Schwartz says, "In our family, by the time our youngest son came out at 13, my wife and I had long progressed from inkling to conviction. A toddler who wore a feather boa around the house and pleaded for pink light-up sneakers with rhinestones is probably telling you something, even if he doesn't yet know what it is."

He observes that many parents worry whether being closeted could be taking a psychic toll on their gay or lesbian child, yet they do not know how to indicate their own openness to the idea of him or her coming out.

Since young people are now coming out at ever earlier ages and since there has been so much attention to the problem of bullying and suicide, parents are sometimes torn as to how best to prepare for the possibility that one or more of their children might be glbtq and how to help them if they desire to come out.

Schwartz recounts how he and his wife handled this dilemma. "In our family, we knew that Joseph was probably gay, and we saw in problems he was having at school that he was under psychological pressure. We believed that keeping his sexual orientation under wraps (he's since told us that he knew he was gay from the age of 8) was aggravating the situation. But we were reluctant to force him out of his closet."

"We asked our gay friends what they would have wanted at Joe's age. They confirmed: don't push, unless Joe seemed to be in real distress. It's his secret to reveal, they said."

"But they also suggested that we make it clear that however our son turned out, we'd accept and love him--and to work references to gay life into our daily conversation instead of treating it as a touchy subject best left alone."

"We did, and Joseph came out to me one evening when I had taken him out for sushi at a local restaurant; he was telling me about ways that he unsettled the other boys by dropping comments like, 'Do you think Josh has any idea how attractive he is?' I asked if maybe he wasn't trying to tell them something--and asked if he might also be trying to tell me something. 'I might be,' he said. And so we knew."

The take-away of Schwartz's article is that parents need to communicate that their love is unconditional and that they are open to discussing all topics, including sexuality.

Although it remains rare that parents are so accepting that they actually encourage their children to come out, it is important to recognize that the support of parents, family, and friends has helped move us closer to equal rights and to happier lives, and thus National Coming Out Day is a good time to celebrate the coming out of our allies as well as ourselves.

In observance of National Coming Out Day, Dan Savage and Terry Miller presented their second It Gets Better special on MTV, which features the coming out stories of three young people. It may be viewed below.

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