Tuesday, October 11th marked National Coming Out Day, which “is an internationally observed civil awareness day celebrating gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. people and communities. (Wikipedia)” What National Coming Out Day represents is a day where the GLBT community can rejoice in the freedom that the process of coming out provides and can resolve to remain truthful to their identities, while GLBT Allies can reaffirm their support for friends, family and coworkers to live openly and honestly with all around them. Like many awareness days, we should really be striving to achieve the goals and dreams of National Coming Out Day all year and every day, but it is important to recognize the importance and the significant change that coming out to others brings.
Harvey Milk may have said it best when he stated, “Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”
National Coming Out Day is a yearly reminder that we are still in a fight for equal rights for the GLBT community in the United States, and that that fight is far from over, and it is just as important every year, every day, every person we meet, that we are fighting and that we are truthful and that we are out.
However, just as important, if not more important, as we celebrate our own freedom to live out, we must remember those that came before us in the fight, when the fight was much harder and the odds were stacked much higher. For our struggle today is a piece of cake compared to those that came before us, compared to those queens who fought back at Stonewall, compared to Frank Kameny, a pioneer for everything we take for granted today, who, sadly, on National Coming Out Day 2011, passed away.
A co-founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1961, one of the earliest gay and lesbian rights organizations in the US, Kameny has been instrumental in influencing major aspects of the gay rights fight since then. Fighting through periods like the Lavender Scare all during a time in which homosexuality was still criminalized in this country and years before Stonewall would occur in 1969, Kameny was a true pioneer and giant for the GLBT equality struggle.
Some of his greatest achievements include: bringing the first gay civil rights case to the Supreme Court (it was not heard) after being discharged from the military for being gay, significantly influencing the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, influencing President Clinton in allowing gays to obtain government security clearances in 1995, and being one of the first people to picket and protest outside of the White House on behalf of gay rights, with his signature slogan, “Gay is Good.”
His efforts have not gone unheralded by our community’s allies, with legal suits challenging California’s Proposition 8 (which removed the rights of gay couples to get legally married in the state) referencing his early work with the Mattachine Society, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian investing in and protecting many of his original documents and his original picket signs from the 60’s, and having a street named after him (Kameny Way) in Washington D.C. as well as his house named a D.C. Historic Landmark.
Kameny’s death is a loss of one of the GLBT community’s great leaders and figures, one of our original fighters, and his story should not be lost amidst what now compels the GLBT community forward.
I think the lesson for all of us, GLBT or not, is that we must, as we celebrate our own progress and freedom and steel ourselves for the continued fight for equality, we must remember the great leaders who preceded us in our struggles, who made our work today that much easier for us to continue on today.
We must never lose our history, or we risk not moving forward.