Every step out of the closet is in the right direction [Editorial]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on October 11, 2012.

Our View: Coming Out Day is about more than personal decisions — it’s about community progress.

Today is National Coming Out Day, dedicated to the difficult process of revealing one’s identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender American.

Coming out is a life-changing decision that makes or breaks careers, families and lives. And, of course, it’s not something you can do in a day — it’s a continuing process.

But today is about more than just the brave personal decisions of individuals. As important as it is to live honest and open lives, Coming Out Day represents something more significant.

Today is a celebration of how times have changed. In 1988, when the first National Coming Out Day was celebrated, those who came out faced serious risks: loss of a job, abandonment by families, rejection by communities, and even injury or death.

Those risks, unfortunately, have not disappeared. But Norman and communities like it are testaments to the fact that it does get better.

Today is a celebration of the fact that many GLBTQ Sooners feel safe enough to live open lives. That hundreds of Normanites feel comfortable publically supporting the GLBTQ community and working for gay rights.

That two men or two women can walk across campus holding hands and be relatively certain they will not be harassed. That the harassment or discrimination that does happen is not the norm.

It is a celebration of the fact that some students and faculty members felt safe enough to come out in the pages of the The Daily.

In just the span of most students’ lives, the U.S. has made such progress. Just 20 years ago, GLBTQ Americans were invisible in popular culture; marriage equality was a distant dream; attacks based on sexual orientation were not called hate crimes; and “gay” was a dirty word in politics.

Now, the battle for marriage equality has spread to every state, the patchwork collection of rights and protections for GLBTQ citizens grows constantly, and the president of the United States himself is a proven (and open) advocate for gay rights.

But today also is a reminder of what it takes to keep that change coming — because the battle is far from over. As of January, in 29 states you still could be fired because of your sexual orientation, and in 34 you could be fired because of your gender identity.

Fourty-four states still lack marriage equality, barring same-sex couples from the 1,138 federal rights that come with marriage. In fact, 30 states have enshrined this discrimination in their constitution.

Most importantly, the effects on the GLBTQ community have not abated. To come out in America is still to take a risk.

Studies show GLBTQ people are more likely to commit suicide and more likely than members of any other minority to be victims of hate crimes. Hatred and homophobia still are accepted — if not expected — in the political discourse. And interpersonal discrimination is a fact of life for many.

But we’ve seen that it does get better. In order to continue this trend of progress, GLBTQ Americans must come out and be counted, and their fellow citizens must do what they can to make their communities safe places in which to exit the closet.

So do your part to make this community inclusive. If you’re an ally, work to ensure your fellow Sooners feel safe enough to live honestly. If you’re a member of the GLBTQ community, consider coming out.

In the end, today is a fullfillment of the promise made by one of the first openly gay politicians, Harvey Milk, before he was assassinated: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

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