One year, to the day, after the 1987 National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, the first National Coming Out Day was observed. Originally intended as a commemoration of social awareness of the existence of gays and lesbians, I believe that National Coming Out Day can continue to hold meaning for the LGBT community and our allies in this era of increased social acceptance.
The unabating image of a scared teenager sitting his or her parents down before Thanksgiving and saying, "Mom, dad, I'm gay" may remain true for some, but for many LGBT young people today, that method is more fit for a Hollywood movie than a real conversation.
For many young LGBT people, it's much more passive, and significantly less emotional. It's also both a demonstration of progress and a troubling indicator of a lack of communal strength. More and more common it is that newly out people don't feel the sense of urgency once felt by LGBT people of generations past to make our community more equal in the eyes of society and law.
To be sure, it is an excellent show of progress that the media has numerous positive representations of our community -- from Modern Family to Rachel Maddow. And it's wonderful that for some, being LGBT is so much a non-issue that they don't feel any stress about it.
But the reality is that the world we live in is still vastly unequal for the LGBT community, and this Coming Out Day, I have a challenge for LGBT people and our allies alike, to come out in ways more public than before.
1. If you are a parent -- don't wait for your children to come out to you. If you believe in full equality for LGBT people, tell them early on, every year, that you will love them for who they are, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity may be. It should not be a child's responsibility to come out to their parents. Parents should create an environment for their kids that lets them know that they will be loved no matter what.
2. If you identify as heterosexual but believe that all people should be treated equally -- come out for marriage equality. Make sure all your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and elected officials know that you believe that the time for marriage equality has come. That you believe that your LGBT friends should have the same legal rights as you do. Come out loud, come out in large numbers. Come out for equality.
3. If you identify as an LGBT person -- first, if you are not out, be out. Yes, it takes courage to make the leap, but it's so important both for you as an individual and for the community at large. Second, come out as an activist. We have come far, and the LGBT equality movement has achieved quite a lot -- but in Pennsylvania, it's still 100% legal to fire someone from their job and deny housing opportunities based on a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. We lack a state hate crimes statute specifically addressing our community, and we don't have enumerated protected classes in our state's anti-bullying law. And of course, we lack any form of relationship recognition for the LGBT community. Quite simply we need you. We need you to join us as an activist, and if you can't be an activist, be a philanthropist.
4. If you care about equality for the LGBT community -- come out for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In their first term in the White House, they have created more than 100 administrative changes to positively effect the LGBT community -- including hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples and a clarification of the Equal Access Act to protect LGBT youth who want to form a Gay Straight Alliance in a public school. Don't Ask Don't Tell is history. And for the first time, a sitting President and Vice President believe in marriage equality.
Governor Romney wants to take us backwards. Come out for Obama/Biden so we can continue to move forward. And don't stop with Obama and Biden. Come out for Equality Pennsylvania's other endorsed candidates. We need elected officials at all levels, from School Board to the White House, who believe in equality. This year, we have some great candidates including Kathleen Kane for Attorney General, Eugene DePasquale for Auditor General, and Rob McCord for re-election as State Treasurer.
These three state-wide candidates believe in marriage equality and in fact, all forms of LGBT equality. Their victories will mean that we can continue to move our community forward with legal equality. Don't sit this election out! And ask your candidates where they stand on marriage equality!
5. I would be remiss not to ask us all to take a moment of remembrance for people in the recent and not-so-recent past that have fallen victim to violence for being LGBT. There are still too many stories of violence against our community. Before Harvey Milk was assassinated, he said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let it shatter every closet door." Let's take the courage held by people near and far, recent and historic, who have died to be out and let's stand strong to make ours a world of full equality for the LGBT community.
Adrian Shanker, Bethlehem, is President of Equality Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter at @AdrianShanker.