An open letter to the City of Appleton:
National Coming Out Day is celebrated annually on October 11th. This year, Nate Wolff and me and the City of Appleton decided to celebrate it in a big way because our community is feeling hurt and under attack. Deaths of trans women are epidemic, youth suicides are on the rise, and this week, the Supreme Court of the US is deciding on cases that could change our right to be who we are, to have a job, to exist with dignity.
Traditionally, National Coming Out Day is when LGBTQ+ people who are out already think about what it took to tell people they are LGBTQ+ and what it means to live their lives out of the closet. But more importantly, it’s a day for all the people who aren’t out, the invisible members of the LGBTQ+ community.
When you put up a pride flag, for National Coming Out Day or in June for Pride Month, the most important message you are sending isn’t necessarily to the adults who are out and have been out. It’s for:
- the gay men who work in education who still face significant discrimination.
- religious people who know they would not be welcome in their place of worship as themselves.
- working class and poor people who can’t afford to be out due to the risk of unemployment and housing discrimination.
- parents who don’t want to be judged unfit because of their own orientation.
- transitioned trans people who are accepted as the gender they are and who don’t want to be considered less of a man or a woman because of how they were designated at birth.
- those who are most marginalized by other aspects of identity such as race and who face greater risks of violence and discrimination.
- people who don’t identify strongly ‘enough’ in any identity to come out in one.
- people who worry their families won’t accept them, who worry about losing lifelong friends.
- people who are in a heterosexual marriage or relationship who don’t want to hurt the person they are with and are raising children with.
- trans people who can’t be out in the military.
- people who don’t want to disappoint their parents and families, no matter their age.
- new immigrants who don’t want to lose the only people in their community who share their culture and speak their language.
- parents with adult children who adore them and who they’re afraid of letting down.
- people who use different pronouns at work than they do in their private lives.
- people sleeping in shelters terrified to lose a place to sleep.
- couples who never feel safe holding holds in public.
- anyone whose access to medical services or mental health care might be hindered.
- those who are financially dependent on someone else.
But most importantly, your visible pride flag is for the young people who are LGBTQ+, who can’t come out, or be out, because they have so little autonomy in their lives, who don’t get to choose who their parents are or what their religion is or even where they go to school. It’s for the young people who are bullied because they are different and no one at their school is helping. It’s for the young people who worry about disappointing their mom or dad or grandma or uncle, who think it’s impossible to live a happy, productive life as an LGBTQ+ person, or who believe there is something wrong, or evil, about them because of who they are or who they love.
So often events like this feature the people who are out – who are organizers, activists, small business owners: the people who have already navigated coming out and being out and have found some happiness or success in life. But this event is not about us and never has been. We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved, feel safe, have a job, be successful, have families. We come out so they know their elders are out here loving them even when we don’t know who they are yet. We come out so they know we’re here and that someone cares about them living their lives to their fullest potential. We come out so that those young people live to be adults because too many of them don’t.
We come out because we can and we know others who can’t, won’t, shouldn’t – yet, or maybe ever.
That’s why you put up a rainbow: it is a promise to all the invisible LGBTQ+ people that you understand they exist, that their lives are not easy, and that they are loved and valued and celebrated.
Happy National Coming Out Day.