Friday marks a very important day for many people among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community and its allies. Itʼs the day thatʼs been designated as National Coming Out Day.
This yearʼs observation is a milestone. Itʼs the 25th anniversary. That milestone gives people a chance to see how far the LGBTQ community has come since that fateful October day in 1988, and how far we still have to go.
During the lead-up to that day, several columns about the process of coming out have been published. They range from the humorous to the unconventional to the practical, and tips are plenty. So, too, are resources. The Trevor Project, which was founded in 1998 as a suicide hotline devoted to LGBTQ teens dealing with the stress of being gay, provides valuable support. So, too, does the It Gets Better Project, which was founded in 2010 by journalist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller in response to a series of teen suicides that happened in the late summer, early fall of 2010.
Full disclosure: I submitted a video for the project.
The great collection of resources is only part of the story. Unfortunately, gay teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, according to Livescience.com. So, too, are bullying episodes such as football players and others at the University of Mississippi heckling a performance of The Laramie Project last week and an alleged rant by Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola.
For his part, Raiola issued a prototypical non-apology apology and made a donation to the band, but also said he never made anti-gay comments, adding that he has gay family members.
The events surrounding National Coming Out Day for many in the LGBTQ community are even more poignant, with memories of the brutal assault on University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard 15 years ago still raw for many. Shepard died of his wounds 15 years ago Saturday, serving as a stark reminder of the ever-present dangers for LGBTQ people and why the theme of this yearʼs National Coming Out Day celebration is “Coming Out Still Matters.”
Shepardʼs loss did much to change attitudes toward the gay community. So, too, did shows such as MTVʼs "The Real World," which broke new ground in the early 1990s by featuring openly gay cast members as more than stereotypical caricatures.
Just as vital to the fight for full equality has been the increasing presence of allies of the LGBTQ community and of organizations established by them to fight for equality.
Organizations such as Athlete Ally, founded by former University of Maryland wrestler Hudson Taylor, The StandUp Foundation founded by former rugby star Ben Cohen, the You Can Play Project founded by former National Hockey League scout Patrick Burke, the son of longtime NHL executive Brian Burke, have made great strides in promoting awareness and fighting homophobia in sports and in society.
Individual allies have also made their support known, including former New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Zach Wahls and his impassioned speech on the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives in support of his two moms, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and his legendary letter to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., and former "Real World: Brooklyn" cast member Scott Herman advocating fiercely for gay rights. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo even went so far as to take a nude photo for the NOH8 campaign.
From the perspective of someone who has lived through a long journey toward self-acceptance, the progress thatʼs been made in the last 25 years has been astounding. As I mentioned in my It Gets Better video, Iʼve seen attitudes change toward homosexuality dramatically. Every time I get frustrated with a setback or an example of ignorance, I think about where we were 25 years ago and realize the fight is far from over.