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National Coming Out Day

October 11 is National Coming Out Day. The theme this year is “Talk About It.”

A poll of GLBT Americans last year showed that startling amounts of people not only conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from people in their lives, but many people who consider themselves to be “out” also refrain from speaking to others about GLBT issues. Among the findings of the poll: only 3 percent of members of the GLBT community are out to their doctors, and less than half are out to their bosses at work.

Obviously, coming out for the first time is important for leading a whole and complete life, but we also want to help encourage and empower people to talk openly about their lives each and every day,” said Mark Shields, director of the Coming Out Project.

The Coming Out Project is particularly focusing on supportive straight people and working to give them resources and opportunities to voice their support for equality.

“We will only achieve equality by growing the number of people who stand with us,” said Shields. “Every time a straight person speaks out against an anti-gay joke, or joins a gay-straight alliance, they are having a coming out experience. We want to honor that, and make sure it happens more often.”

Companies are realizing that the value of a diverse workforce, and this year, 92% of Fortune 500 companies protect their gay and lesbian employees. In the 2005 HRC Equality Index:

* A record 101 companies score 100 percent, which is attributed to a sharp increase in gender identity non-discrimination policies. In 2002, only 13 companies earned a perfect rating.

* Today, 5.6 million people work at the 101 companies that score 100 percent. In 2002, approximately 690,000 people were employed by the 13 companies that scored 100 percent.

* Eighty-one percent of scored companies offer health benefits to the domestic partners of employees, up from 70 percent in 2002.

Despite all that good news, not everyone has the option of coming out —
* gays can still legally be fired from a job
* gay folks can most certainly get the crap beaten out of them or worse in many parts of the country
* and it goes without saying if you have anti-gay parents and you’re not yet 18 (or are dependent on them for support), coming out is probably a really bad idea unless you are prepared for the consequences of them taking the news badly.

That said, coming out is the most powerful thing one and can do, but it cannot be done in isolation; straight allies have to be willing to publicly defend their gay friends and acquaintances. The fear is that people are coming out in such numbers that are scaring the bigots we read about every day. When the homo-haters’ discomfort has reached a level that causes them to lash out — like burning a Florida gay couple out of their home, the clear message is to recloset or get out.

The homophobes would love nothing more than to reclaim “God’s country”, and shuttle gays, brown people of any sort, and probably anyone of a religion other than fundamentalist Christianity off to distant areas of Blue. At this point in gay rights history, the bigots are now content to cede the deep Blue enclaves to ethnic, religious and gay populations as “lost causes.” The real battlegrounds are the suburbs, rural areas and states that have not had to deal with large populations of diversity. I guess the small victory is that they don’t want the Blue back; the battle is over the Purple areas from tilting more Blue, and to stop any attempts to “corrupt” the deeply Red areas in any way.

The more of us that come out, the fewer places the bigots have to run off to. Let them find a state to take over and secede to create their Jesusland.

In the meantime…

* I think about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) County board voting to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy, despite a vile campaign by the sick elected nutcases to stir fear and misunderstanding. This county, and cities and towns across the country, are quietly acknowledging that we deserve respect — and equality.

* I remember the eloquent words of a straight ally in the Texas House of Representatives, Senfronia Thompson, and the bravery she showed in a speech that brought tears to the eyes of so many readers back in May.

* I admire The Montgomery [AL] Gay and Lesbian Association for holding the city’s first gay pride festival in seven years, facing bigotry and disdain from the likes of the Christian Coalition (which didn’t have the balls to show up). Red State Pride!

* I thank the gay organizations and progressive forces in my state of NC. The Tar Heel State, for the second year in a row, was the only state in the Southeast that faced an anti-gay amendment and stopped it in the legislature.

I’m sure you can think of many positive examples you’ve read about from all over that tell you, in spite of the intolerant bible-beating, we are still making progress. You know a corner has been turned when even Jerry Falwell thinks gays and lesbians are entitled to basic civil rights.

It’s time to come out.

As I said back in February

* Support Equality organizations in your state, if it is at risk for an amendment challenge. Give your time and money, if you can spare. In North Carolina, the organization at the grassroots level is Equality NC.

* If you are gay and if it is at all possible for you to safely come out, DO IT. No one ever regrets throwing open that closet door, even if the path is difficult for a while. The more that people realize we are your neighbors, co-workers, teachers, police officers and leaders in the community, the less effective the “fear and loathing” demonization campaign by the Right is. We’re usually living average, boringly normal workaday lives like the average American and no threat to life as we know it.

* If you are straight and an ally, COME OUT. Support your gay friends and loved ones when you hear intolerant conversation, politely engage ignorance with information.

* Make the Democratic establishment get off of their asses on this issue. Too many are DINOs, ready to sacrifice all principles for a vote as a career politician. Courage is in short supply, apparently, so these losers need to be threatened with the electoral boot. Party hacks need to be held accountable. Write them and call them out in emails and in the blogosphere. So far,
I’ve only heard Mel Watt (D-NC) make a persuasive case on how to approach gay civil rights in the public sphere. Where are all the other Dems? Let them have it. Don’t give a dime unless they are willing to take a real position, not the punt of “marriage is between a man and a woman” so there’s no need for a constitutional amendment, “unless the courts see otherwise.”

***

Whew, that was a long post. Questions for the gay folks out there:

Are you out to…
— your friends?
— your immediate family?
— your extended family?
— any/some/most of your colleagues at work?
— your boss?
— your doctors?
— your neighbors?

I’m happy to say that I can check off all of those today, but it took years of constantly coming out, choosing when “the right time” would be to come out to any of the above groups. It’s a seemingly endless process, never easy, almost always awkward (since I’m an introvert to begin with). It’s not like something that comes up in casual conversation, nor do you really want it to. But eventually kicking the door open beats life in the closet.

For my straight readers:
— are you “out” as an ally?
— are you able to talk about gay friends or relatives with others?
— are you comfortable shooting down homophobes when they spout off during a conversation?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding