With Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, just around the corner, the chatter is already starting with events, fundraisers and other activities that will increase understanding of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, the need for LGBT people to come out as LGBT, and the need for allies to come out as allies.
I grew up in a very conservative and religious family. I came out in my mid-20s, without the benefit of a national day of coming out to encourage and celebrate all that I am. No, the deafening silence of many straight people around me and the rejection and disdain of my parents and some members of my family are what welcomed me into the world of being out. Those were very dark times.
Today, people celebrate National Coming Out Day in a variety of ways, and all catapult the LGBT and Straight Ally coming-out process into people's awareness, into the spotlight via news, blogs, social media and more.
And then comes Oct. 12... along with the collective slam! of thousands of closet doors, not just by lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people but by too many straight allies who need to stay out for equality.
The power of a national coming out event is undeniably rich with opportunities for straight allies to strongly declare themselves supporters of equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. But the power of one event and the surrounding buzz it gets should not be mistaken for real strength. No, the real strength comes at midnight on Oct. 12, when allies walk back into their day-to-day lives. Because being an ally doesn't mean only stating that you're an ally on Oct. 11, or only participating in a celebration of LGBT pride in June. Yes, parades can be fun, and putting a rainbow on your Facebook profile picture as a declaration of support is a nice touch, but what are you doing the other 11 months? The other 364 days a year? As a gay man and an advocate for LGBT people, their families and friends who support equality efforts all year long, I want to ask a simple question:
We know what you're saying when you're with us, but how are you speaking about us -- or more importantly on our behalf -- when we're not in the room?
Will you, straight allies, carry your Oct. 11 declaration of coming out on the side of LGBT equality back into your schools, your workplaces, your places of worship, anywhere in your communities where a lack of understanding can lead to bad jokes, isolation, bullying, violence, and -- at the extreme end of the spectrum -- death?
It is said that seven out of 10 people know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, which means that the ally circle of reach will have a greater circumference if those allies can move beyond once-a-year support and be an ally every day.
The influence of parents, family, friends -- and even casual acquaintances and strangers -- is a more potent catalyst for change than any of us can even imagine.
But only if that influence extends beyond a once-a-year commitment to that change.
Jody Huckaby is the Executive Director of PFLAG National, the original straight ally organization. With nearly 40 years' experience working on LGBT and ally issues -- long before there was a National Coming Out Day -- PFLAG's Straight for Equality project has a number of resources to help allies 24/7/365. Go to www.pflag.org/S4Equality for more details.