Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, and my local PFLAG chapter, along with the gay-straight alliance at Arizona Western College, collaborated and hosted a screening in honor of the event. Several dozen people met to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first National Coming Out Day in 1988, and to provide a safe and loving environment for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to come and share. We screened Prayers for Bobby, the ultimate movie for addressing the tragic consequences of the rejection that can sometimes accompany coming out to one's family.
I have spent the week reflecting on my experiences and growth over the last several years. I have written before about my process of becoming a straight ally, and about how my thinking has evolved as my experiences have broadened. I got involved with PFLAG two years ago, when I was struggling through my own grief when I learned that my older brother had spent three decades in isolation, fearful of sharing his sexuality. I had long come to an accepting stance on LGBT issues; my younger brother had brought me through that journey years earlier when he bravely came out to our family. But it wasn't until I had the privilege of walking through my older brother's process of coming to terms with his sexuality that I began to really gain an appreciation for how complex the coming-out process can be.
I can recall a time when I was becoming more active in LGBT rights and felt a naïve excitement and urgency growing within me. I couldn't fathom the idea that any person should have to bear the burden of concealing his or her sexual or gender identity for one moment longer. I wanted to see people running full steam ahead, shouting it from the rooftops and being free to live their lives as themselves. It has been a learning process for me, and being a part of PFLAG has aided in that growth. I have discovered that even becoming active as an ally has required some strength and organization. I have learned that not everyone can be approached the same: Some people will never be open to equality discussions, and, sadly, not everyone in my life will support my activism. So if coming out as a straight ally has had emotional ups and downs, how much greater must if be for someone to identify as LGBT to their family, friends, and community?
I have come to realize what coming out entails and have learned that it is different for each and every person. Some families and loved ones welcome the news with open arms, while others offer cold indifference or rejection. I am by no means an expert on this subject, and I have no formal training in human psychology, but one thing that I have observed to be true is that the most important step in one's journey is coming out to oneself. I have friends who came out to their circle long before they ever came out to themselves, meaning that they received acceptance and support from their loved ones before they ever accepted who they are. There is so much shame and fear surrounding this process that it can be crippling, and as in the case of Bobby Griffith in Prayers for Bobby, there are times when it ends tragically.
So while we celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, I hope that someone is able to lighten his or her load this week by entrusting a loved one and coming out with confidence. I hope that this week, those of us within the LGBT community, straight allies included, welcome scores of individuals who have reached the point in their journeys where they are ready to share their true selves. Let this symbolic celebration be the day that many find comfort and encouragement from activist and support groups such as PFLAG and GSAs. But I also hope that on this day many others will finally come out to themselves, that they will find not only peace but confidence in their identity. May today be a day of internal growth and self-acceptance that facilitates many people in their journeys. Coming out is a process that is unique unto each individual and cannot be scripted or rushed beyond a person's comfort zone. My dream is that one day inequality will be unheard of, and that no one will find himself or herself facing such an intimidating process of seeking acceptance from family and community. I hope that one day soon we will have no need for a National Coming Out Day, because the only thing that will be left in our closets is clothes.