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Archive for October 11, 2011

National Coming Out Day? Who Knew?

A friend’s blog alerted me that today is National Coming Out Day.  I had not paid attention that such a day existed, but it does.  The need for such a day underscores the prejudice and discrimination so many still feel if they voice their sexual orientation or demonstrate their love by getting married, an act only legal in six states. I salute those who are brave enough to come out today and encourage everyone to support those who do or have. It diminishes no one to say to another, “You are fine just the way you are!”

Her post reminded me of an “event” that happened on campus when I was attending Purdue University getting my Masters from 1977 to 1979.  My degree is in English, and as part of my program, I taught Freshman Composition along with other English graduate students. Most of the freshmen were farm kids, away from home for the first time.  Many would come visit me during office hours, not to see me but to sit and pet my dog.  You see I brought my lab-mix with me to class and office hours, and he was a welcome sight for many who were missing their own pets from home.  The students often seemed like big, goofy kids.

Then the gay graduate student organization announced a special event:  Blue Jeans Day.  The plan was that anyone wearing blue jeans on a specific day the next week would be considered gay.  It was meant as a way to show that labels were often wrong, that visually identifying someone with a label was ludicrous, and that making assumptions about people was wrong and hurtful.  This planned event certainly got people talking.  I invited spokespeople into class to discuss the event and answer questions. Many of my students were hesitant about having the event reps in the classroom—most had never met anyone who was openly gay before.

What surprised and saddened me was a campuswide organized reaction to Blue Jean Day.  The voiced opposition was labeled as Kill a Queer Day. There was talk about bringing rifles in from pick-ups and confronting those who were seen as gay.  I don’t recall that there were any actual injuries that day, but the hate and fear were palpable.  Mind you, I did not save campus newspapers so my recollections are based purely on memory.  I had not anticipated such depth
to the response, such antagonism to those in the gay community.  Most of my naïve freshman made a conscious effort not to wear blue jeans on the prescribed day, which meant they had to go shopping because most farm kids always wore jeans! Although that reaction was not as openly hostile as the voiced counter-event, actually changing your clothes so no one would even for one day think you might be gay emphasized the ignorance and fear that is out there in society surrounding this topic.

This event happened over 30 years ago, but I see through news items that bullying of gays endures in schools and the vehemence against gays who share their desire to marry is often voiced. Obviously fear and hatred are still strong.  Now as well as in the past, my heart goes out to those who are struggling with their sexuality and are exposed to such negativity.  Maybe a day like this—National Coming Out Day—will help.   Those needing to come-out and—more importantly—needing to be accepted for who they are need the backup, the support.  All of us—gay, straight, bi—need to make it known that we accept people for who they are, that we will not tolerate hatred and bigotry, no matter what!  To those who say there is something wrong with homosexuality according to their religion, I suggest they love everyone and leave any judging to the Lord.

As I look back to those first years of my teaching career, I also remember the students who would slowly find their voices and share with me that they were gay. One young man in Alabama stands out; he wrote of grappling with his sexual orientation and whether to tell his family in his journal.  Following my instructions, he simply folded over any pages where the content was too private to share; I could see something was written and that was the purpose—I did not have to read every word.  After many, many folded-over pages, this young man wrote an entry asking me to go back and read his private entries.  Those entries explained he was gay, that he had been kicked out of the house when he told his parents, and that he did not know what to do.  I met with him to offer support, understanding, acceptance.  He was dumbfounded I did not hate him.  How sad is that?

When we chatted, I asked if he knew anyone from the local gay community.  No. Neither did I. But one of my other students had rather matter-of-factly noted in her journal that her sister was gay and she liked her sister’s gay friends very much: “They did not seem different from other people at all,” she wrote. I asked my initial student if I could identify him to someone. Yes, I could, so I talked to my other student.  Did she mind, would her sister?  You get the idea.  It took some time, but I was able to introduce this young man to some lesbians who were a few years older than him and who knew about a community group. There was nothing on campus for this young man.  It should not have been that difficult for him to connect with others in the gay community.  I would like to think that it is not quite so difficult these days, but maybe it is in some communities and within some families.  That memory also echoes the need for a National Coming Out Day and all the love and acceptance we can share.

Just wanting society to change is not enough.  As Gandhi says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Therefore I thank Deborah for her post in which she applauded her friend Chris for his post.  Talking about National Coming Out Day is one way for us to show just how humane and compassionate we are, how caring and understanding we need to be.  Maybe as we each take a stance for sanity and caring, some ripples will move out and jostle others into new thoughts and actions as well.  Now that would be a great attitude to spread across the planet!

Now, for a little celebration, here is a video of one of my favorite songs, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”:

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