National Coming Out Day has been recognized on October 11 since 1988, when it marked the first anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. My friend Alan linked to a video of a newscast from that event in 1987, and as I watched it, I found myself thinking, In those days, because of AIDS, coming out, being visible, was a matter of life and death. When I finished watching the video, I realized–coming out is still a matter of life and death.
I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately. It’s one of those words applied to a wide variety of human experiences: Her courageous battle with cancer… The fireman courageously entered the burning building… They have the courage of their convictions… The courage of our troops fighting in Afghanistan…
Is it an overused word? I don’t know that it is. Because I’ve always believed that many of our biggest words–courage, strength, honor, love, heroism, honesty, compassion–are shown in the smallest acts of our daily lives. For those people who showed up in Washington, D.C., in 1987, courage meant saying, publicly, “I am a lesbian.” It meant contributing a quilt panel with the name of a beloved someone who died of a disease that everyone had kept a secret. Or walking down a street with a sign even if you didn’t feel like it was “your” cause because you believed it was a right cause.
- Courage is being visible when a lot of people would like for you to remain invisible so they can be comfortable.
- Courage is knowing that not everyone who is gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered has the supportive environment you might enjoy, so you commend their first step toward visibility, whether it is taken gloriously or hesitantly.
- Courage is not mocking people because they look or behave or express themselves in ways that aren’t your ways but are authentic to who they are.
- Courage is understanding that some people are not ready to open that closet door and letting them know that when they are, you will stand with them against whatever comes their way.
- Courage is using your voice for people whose voices have been silenced by hate, by fear, by death.
- Courage is understanding that even if you can’t raise your voice loud and proud and publicly, you can say quietly to someone, “I love you for exactly who you are, and I always will.”