October 11th is National Coming Out Day.
Much has changed in terms of public awareness and acceptance of LGBT people in our modern history. I wasn’t yet born when the pain of anti-gay prejudice erupted into the Stonewall riots. I have some consciousness of “the Twinkie Defense” but had little clue as to who Harvey Milk was when I was four years old. As a small town Kansas girl, I heard the word “gay” whispered in hushed tones of speculation while eyes winked when a neighbor was referred to as “a confirmed bachelor”. I don’t think any of it set in until some funny lady named Ellen came out on national television to Kansas native and rocker Melissa Etheridge. (Apparently, back then you had to sign in triplicate with a confirmed and “out” witness, but these days it’s a lot more casual.)
Most people forget that Ellen Degeneres paid a heavy price when she paved the way for mainstream “out” entertainers. From “Will & Grace” to “The New Normal” & “The Modern Family”, it might be easy to forget that “Coming Out” can and is for many people, still very, very hard. Lest we dare forget the tragedies of Matthew Shepard, Tyler Clementi or the countless unnamed youth who have lost their lives to silence.
The reality is that coming out is the beginning of openly confronting the stigma and prejudice that keep so many closeted. For every human being who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, regardless of faith affiliation, most will face some form of religious assault to their human dignity. Destructive religious traditions set out to socially and emotionally shame any and all who do not uphold the conditions of membership, including would-be straight allies.
National Coming Out Day is not solely about outing oneself as LGBT, it is about breaking the bonds of silence. It is about showing ourselves willing to be a part of a community that includes all people. A community that is incomplete without the support of straight allies.
Many straight, Christian allies hesitate to act in public affirmation for fear of facing the same measure of persecution and judgment. The “guilt by association” branding is very real. Just ask Brian McClaren. When the popular straight, postmodern evangelical author and ally recently presided over his son’s same-sex wedding, immediate accusations of disloyalty began. (Pull that thread here, here, and here.) Sure, he may lose a few book sales, but the impact of such willingness to act openly not only blesses his son, his act blesses many who have waited in silence for leadership.
So when you think of the challenges facing our closeted LGBT friends, neighbors and youth this week, think on this: For whatever repercussions you might hesitate to shoulder by “outting” yourself as an ally, consider what it means to those who have been waiting their whole lives for your compassion. To my straight Christian friends, let me blunt: little will change until you match the courage of those who have dared to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. It is simply not enough to be a friend who says nothing. No burden is fully eased unless it shared by another. We need you. Please come out…