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As National Coming Out Day approaches, coming out still matters

(Editor's note: This post originally was published on the HRC Blog.)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same)

The first time I heard that phrase it was a lyric in the song “Circumstances” by Canadian rock legends Rush. It was 1978, and I was fully in the midst of puberty and beginning to realize that it was the girls at school that were giving me butterflies in my stomach. I had begun my coming out journey – and I did so unaware that across the country a very wise man was espousing the power of that very process. I hadn’t heard of Harvey Milk at that point in my life but would have been comforted to know I wasn’t the only queer person in the world. Milk’s message that every person who comes out gives another hope – so simple, yet so powerful – is just as important today as it was 35 years ago. And today in 2013 as we approach the 25th Anniversary of National Coming Out Day there is no denying that coming out still matters.

My coming out journey progressed quite slowly, and one of the main reasons was there were no representations of LGBT people in my small, central Pennsylvania town life. I didn’t know anyone who was gay (or didn’t know that I knew!), my guidance counselor didn’t have a resource guide to coming out laying around his office and I sure couldn’t talk to my parents about it. My television offered Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas on Soap, but as much as I loved the show I didn’t see myself in his character. I decided it would be easiest to just ignore what the butterflies meant and it wasn’t until college when I met other queers that I began paying attention to them again. The people who came out to me had no idea they had given me the hope to be my whole self, but that was exactly what I needed – to know others like me.

25 years after the first National Coming Out Day was first celebrated, the power of the act has not diminished. Individuals who know someone LGBT are more likely to be supportive and understand the work we continue to do toward full equality. Generation Equality (what you may call millennials) is the most supportive of LGBT equality than any in the history of our country, providing more proof that coming out still matters. I mean, they didn’t get that way by accident – it was courageous people who heeded the call of NCOD that made it possible. Some were tv stars, like Amanda Bearse of Married With Children, Wilson Cruz of My So Called Life, Sean Sasser and Pedro Zamora of The Real World. But it was also everyday heroes who made it possible by living out and open lives – a teacher, an aunt, a co-worker, a neighbor, a teammate, a congregant. 

It may seem as if coming out is no big deal anymore, but HRC’s Coming Out Project distributes more than 10,000 of our resource guides each year (thousands more downloaded) – people still need help on their journeys.  And those journeys are world-changing – for the person coming out and those to whom one comes out. Coming out will always be an act of courage, authenticity and hope.  Straight allies, I’m talking to you, too – every visible act of support gives hope to the LGBT people in your lives. And Harvey would be the first to remind us that hope still matters. This National Coming Out Day take your first or five-thousandth step and give yourself and others hope for a better world. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coming out still matters.

Throughout the week, HRC is pleased to bring you a series of blog posts and videos from HRC friends, supporters and staff sharing their coming out stories and discussing the still profound impact of coming out. Stay tuned to the HRC blog for more.