Almost 30 years ago, the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, or “The Great March,” was held in Washington D.C. This was a major civil demonstration that sparked tremendous advancement for LGBTQ civil rights that one year later on October 11, 1988, National Coming Out Day was established.
I myself am a straight ally and I cannot even comprehend the amount of courage it takes to disclose an important part of yourself to someone when you may not know how they will react. But it does not mean that I cannot empathize with the community. I am a person of color and have personally experienced bigotry over things that I have no control over.
A close friend of mine is starting to plan his wedding and it prompted us to reflect on the day that he came out to me almost 10 years ago. “Coming out” is a term used when a member of the LGBTQ community lets others, such as family, friends, or coworkers know how they identify. He described that day as being one of the most nerve-wracking days of his life and said that he could not be happier that I was the one he came out to. It gave him the resolution to come out to his parents and other friends that he held dear. And that is not always easy, considering the views some people may hold of the LGBTQ community.
America has definitely moved towards acceptance over the past 100 years, especially in regards to the LGBTQ community. We have seen legal changes that decriminalize homosexuality. We have had great leaders, such as Harry Hay, the Daughters of Bilitis, and Harvey Milk, who all fought for LGBTQ civil rights. Most recently, we saw our Supreme Court rule that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. But this does not mean that our country doesn’t still have room to grow.
In schools, LGBTQ youth still face bullying from their peers, made all the worse by the cyberbullying epidemic. Despite the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, same-sex couples are still facing discrimination, such as businesses refusing to make their wedding cakes and denying the use of a venue for the wedding ceremony. And most depressing of all, hate crimes, like the horrific shooting in Orlando, are still plaguing those who identify as LGBTQ.
But despite all of these injustices that still need to be addressed in American society, those of the LGBTQ community are still coming out. We are seeing more and more celebrities and community leaders coming out — and not just as gay or lesbian, but as bisexual, transgender, or gender fluid. According to the Human Rights Campaign, nine in ten LGBTQ youth are out to their friends. This is because youth are looking for support and understanding from their peers. Having a strong support system is something that we all, as human beings, need.
But we need to work together to help create a society that is safe and open for everyone.
Everyone has a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, or a close friend that they hold dear in their lives. There is a possibility that that person may identify as gay or bisexual or transgender or whatever their case may be. And the truth is that you can never know when this individual will decide that they are ready to come out to you. But that does not mean that you can’t prepare yourself. If you identify as heterosexual and/or with your assigned sex, it is important to take a second and understand any personal assumptions that you have of the LGBTQ community and how those assumptions influence the way you interact with someone from that community. Recognize the strength and vulnerability that it took for someone to come out and be honored that you were the one they felt safe enough to go to.
The march on Washington in 1987 turned into a celebration of sexual expression. Take the time to educate yourself, whether that be by checking out the Human Rights Campaign website or visiting your campus’ LGBTQ Resource Center and participating in their campus events. Become an ally and communicate that you are a safe person to go to.
You may never know when the day will come that your close friend or family member will come out to you. Being able to listen, without judgment, denial, and fear, but rather with acceptance, affirmation, and pride, can do so much more than you could ever imagine.
Ziyiah Rogers is a UC Irvine alumna and is currently an MSW candidate at the University of Southern California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.