Wednesday, October 11, 2006

National Coming Out Day - The Message

(I will be writing a personal post about what National Coming Out Day means for me, but this post lifted directly from another blogger was too perfect to not share. For this, and a lot of other fantastic writing worth reading, please check out Pam’s House Blend.)

October 11 is National Coming Out Day. The theme is "Talk About It."

The big news this year is information that should put fear into the hearts of The Base -- 70% of heterosexual adults now know someone gay.

And -- those with an out gay or lesbian family member raises the typical American's support for full marriage equality by 17 percentage points.

The above results are from two studies being released by HRC, one by Harris Interactive and the other, "'Coming Out' and Americans' Attitudes on Gay Rights," from the Hunter College Center for Sexuality and Public Policy.

Additional findings:
* 92% of self-identified gays said they are out to close friends
* 78% said they are out to their parents
* A majority are out to other people in their lives, including grandparents, cousins, acquaintances and casual friends, and coworkers and colleagues.


The Foley scandal has shown us that there are a whole lot of GOP closet cases working on The Hill who desperately need to kick those doors wide open. What these people often fear are the fundamentalists controlling their party -- who like gays to be self-loathing and closeted because it doesn't suit their message.

The irony is that these Republican professional closet cases don't really fear being fired by their Republican masters -- look at Rick Santorum's communications director Robert Traynham -- he's out and suffers no consequences working for an ace homophobe who would restrict his rights. Intolerance of gays on the Hill has merely been a GOP front, a play to the Base, and it's a game that has now blown up in their faces (see Amanda's post -- Tucker Carlson states the obvious about the Beltway GOP and what it thinks of the AmTaliban).

While closeted gay hypocrites in the GOP work to legislate away rights for out and proud LGBT citizens, companies are realizing the value of a diverse workforce.

* 51 percent of the Fortune 500 offer domestic partner benefits, up from less than 20 percent in 1999;

* Among Fortune 1000 employers who offer such benefits, 75 percent offer health coverage for a partner's dependents, 55 percent offer adoption assistance, and 61 percent allow workers family and medical leave to care for a partner.

In the 2006 HRC Equality Index:

* A record 138 companies scored 100 percent, which is attributed to a sharp increase in gender identity non-discrimination policies. In 2002, only 13 companies earned a perfect rating.
* 75 percent more companies than in 2005 prohibited discrimination against transgender employees in employment practices;
* 64 percent more companies than in 2005 implemented at least one wellness benefit for transgender employees;
* 35 percent more companies than in 2005 extended COBRA, vision, dental and dependent medical coverage to employees’ same-sex domestic partners; and
* 14 percent more companies than in 2005 engaged in philanthropic or marketing activities directed toward the GLBT community.

Almost all of the companies rated — 436, or 98 percent — include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination polices.


Despite all that good news, not everyone has the option of coming out --
* gays can still legally be fired from a job
* gay folks can most certainly get the crap beaten out of them or worse in many parts of the country
* and it goes without saying if you have anti-gay parents and you're not yet 18 (or are dependent on them for support), coming out is probably a really bad idea unless you are prepared for the consequences of them not taking the news well.

That said, coming out is the most powerful thing one can do, but it cannot be done in isolation; straight allies have to be willing to publicly defend their gay friends and acquaintances. People are coming out and it's scaring the bigots.

The homophobes would love nothing more than to reclaim "God's country", and shuttle gays, brown people of any sort, and probably anyone of a religion other than fundamentalist Christianity off to distant areas of Blue.

North Carolina, for the third year in a row, is the only state in the Southeast to face a marriage amendment bill and stop it in the legislature. That's a bright spot in a Red state.


To make even more progress, it's important to...

* Support Equality organizations in your state, especially if it is at risk for an amendment challenge. Give your time and money, if you can spare. In North Carolina, the organization at the grassroots level is Equality NC.

* If you are gay and if it is at all possible for you to safely come out, DO IT. No one ever regrets throwing open that closet door, even if the path is difficult for a while. The more that people realize we are your neighbors, co-workers, teachers, police officers and leaders in the community, the less effective the "fear and loathing" demonization campaign by the Right is. We're usually living average, boringly normal workaday lives like the average American and no threat to life as we know it.

* Make states that pass marriage amendments and anti-gay legislation know that our gay dollars can go elsewhere. If a state has determined that civil rights for a group can be determined at the ballot box, we can speak with our feet and our wallets.

* If you are straight and an ally, COME OUT. Support your gay friends and loved ones when you hear intolerant conversation, politely engage ignorance with information.

* Make the Democratic establishment get off of their asses on this issue. Too many are DINOs, ready to sacrifice all principles for a vote as a career politician. Courage is in short supply, apparently, so these losers need to be threatened with the electoral boot. Party hacks need to be held accountable. Write them and call them out in emails and in the blogosphere.

* Don't assume potential allies are educated on the issues. I find that a lot of sympathetic straight allies are woefully undereducated about gay rights issues. Kate and I had a conversation with an otherwise politically progressive woman who thought: 1) same sex marriage was legal in several states (only in Massachusetts; Vermont and Connecticut have civil unions); 2) we could marry in Massachusetts (out of state same-sex couples cannot if their home state doesn't recognize gay marriages); 3) a Canadian marriage is legal here in t
he U.S. (nope); 4) states aren't successfully passing marriage amendments (every one that has made it to the ballot has passed so far). The patchwork of domestic partnership laws adds further confusion. Until we can educate people who would support us and get this issue on the radar for them, how can we expect to fight the Right wing?

* Don't give a dime to candidates or parties unless they are willing to take an actual position, not a punt of "marriage is between a man and a woman" so there's no need for a constitutional amendment, "unless the courts see otherwise." Here's a simple question for candidates: Are gay and lesbian couples entitled to benefits at the local, state and federal levels that currently automatically convey with civil marriage? If not, why not. Political figures need to be on the record on whether they believe -- and would legislate -- that we are entitled to those rights, whether or not it's called "marriage." We already know we have closeted allies who believe in equality, but won't fight for it until they feel it's "safe" politically. Those days are over.

* Hold gay advocacy organizations accountable when they don't support candidates that are the most equality-positive on the issues, regardless of incumbency. That's what advocacy means at a time when compromise has allowed state amendment after amendment to pass.


Questions of the day -- for the gay folks out there:

Are you out to...
-- your friends?
-- your immediate family?
-- your extended family?
-- any/some/most of your colleagues at work?
-- your boss?
-- your doctors?
-- your neighbors?

I'm happy to say that I can check off all of those today, but it took years of constantly coming out, choosing when "the right time" would be to come out to any of the above groups. It's a seemingly endless process, never easy, almost always awkward (since I'm an introvert to begin with). It's clearly not something that comes up in casual conversation, nor do you really want it to. But eventually kicking the door open beats life in the closet.

Questions of the day -- for straight readers:
-- are you "out" as an ally?
-- are you able to talk about gay friends or relatives with others?
-- are you comfortable shooting down homophobes when they spout off during a conversation?


Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has a great release out today, "As Nation Observes National Coming Out Day, Growing Numbers of Military Personnel Serve Openly." Those who come out to their colleagues in the military do so at risk of being discharged, but more are coming out anyway. Brian Fricke's story:
Former Marine Sergeant Brian Fricke, who served a tour of duty in Iraq, recently told SLDN's national dinner in Washington that "My fellow Marines in my squadron knew me as Corporal Fricke, and all that came with my follower-ship, leadership and friendship. I recall, while once on night crew, standing inside the fuselage of one of our aircraft, trouble-shooting an electrical issue with a friend. All the repeated talk about dating girls, and messing around with girls and having sex with girls finally pushed me. So I said, 'You know I’m not attracted to women, right?'"

After a few seconds, Fricke said, "I heard him say, 'Oh really?'! That’s no big deal.'" "Despite the hype about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'" said Fricke, “and the trouble gays would cause in the ranks, it wasn’t that big of a deal. And it wouldn’t be today. I remained Corporal Fricke, and I happened to be gay."

HRC has a couple of projects on tap for National Coming Out Day. One is the Snapshot Project, on online public art project encouraging Americans to talk about coming out. Also featured is this effort:
In preparation for Coming Out Day on October 11th, HRC's
Religion and Faith Project offers two imaginative and scripturally-grounded Coming Out Rituals, one written from the Jewish tradition by Jay Michaelson and the other from the Christian tradition by Dr. Scott Haldeman. Read the full story here .
These other resources are available as well:

* Resource Guide to Coming Out (online version is here).
* Resource Guide to Coming Out for African Americans
* Guía de Recursos Para Salir Del Clóset
* Living Openly in Your Place of Worship

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