Celebrating National Coming Out Day
By Jason Frye
Tomorrow, October 11th, marks National Coming Out Day. Though observed primarily for the LGBT community, National Coming Out Day is something that we as humanists can really get behind and learn lessons from. The sources of resistance that have hindered the achievement of full social and civil equality for LGBT people have a habit of being the same source of our own social struggle. As we have seen how visibility has increased the social acceptance of an expanding spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, we are now finding the same to be true with the increasing number of “nones.” We realize that as humanists we are in a key position to come out in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters. The LGBT Humanist Council encourages all humanists to come out tomorrow and remain as visible allies of LGBT people.
Coming out has been an important element in the movement for LGBT equality. National Coming Out Day is often observed by the employment of rainbow flags and pink triangles. These represent LGBT Pride and (the triangles) remembering a history of hostility and violence against LGBT persons. In 1988 psychologist Roger Eichberg started National Coming Out Day in commemoration of the 1987 Lesbian and Gay Rights March on Washington. Though started in the U.S., National Coming Out Day has since spread around the globe. Since 1990, National Coming Out Day has been coordinated by the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC has been a leading voice in lesbian and gay rights for many years and has great coming out resources at www.hrc.org. 2011’s LGBT Humanist of the Year, Candace Gingrich-Jones, became a spokesperson for National Coming Out Day in 1995.
Two years before National Coming Out Day, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Georgia sodomy law (Bowers v. Hardwick 1986). In concurrence with the majority’s decision, Chief Justice Warren Burger cited ancient provisions against homosexuality as supporting Justice Byron White’s opinion that the U.S. Constitution didn’t confer “the fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy.” This of course was later emphatically overturned by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Kennedy opined that the Constitution is not to be used for moralizing against certain socially “unfavorable groups.” This is what we are dealing with: the continual struggle to put our necessary and appropriate focus on the needs of human beings in the here and now rather than to monopolize our moral appraisals by appealing to divine doctrine by virtue of its longevity.
Undoubtedly we have come a long way beyond sodomy laws, but we still have a long way to go. There are states in which single gay and lesbian individuals can adopt children but cannot adopt their partner’s children. Against objection and efforts of the American Red Cross and America’s blood centers, gay man who have had sex at least once since 1977 cannot donate blood in the United States, yet may do so in the U.K. Though we successfully got rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we have yet to achieve full national employment non-discrimination for LGBT people in the U.S.
The visibility of LGBT people is directly responsible for their greater social acceptance. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) recently came out with a study saying that we have a record number of LGBT people on television (4.4% this season, as opposed to 2.1% last). We have also seen a phenomenal rise in the “nones.” Documented well in AHA President David Niose’s new book Nonbeliever Nation, we see that those who either are non-theistic or non-religious have made dramatic numbers increases in recent decades. The “nones” (which includes humanists), is now 20 percent of the population and ironically the fastest growing “religious” group in the country. It is also interesting to note that in nations with the lowest levels of religiosity (Norway, etc.), there tends to be a greater commitment toward LGBT equality (e.g., gender-neutral marriage laws); places (even in the U.S.) with higher levels of religiosity in the Abrahamic Monotheisms (specifically mainline Protestant Christians, Evangelical Christians, and Muslims), there tends to be heightened antipathy toward LGBT people. According to Gallup’s “Global Index of Religion and Atheism” the two greatest decreases in religious-adherence between 2005 and 2012 were in Vietnam (-23 percent), and Ireland (-22 percent). Vietnam is on the verge of breaking Asia’s equal-marriage barrier, and Mary McAleese, former Irish President (1997-2011), recently came out blaming Catholic LGBT-antipathy for LGBT youth-suicides.
I would proffer that the despite 11th-hour Protestant appeals for LGBT butts to fill their evermore-empty seats, the demonstration of the diminishing role of religion in society has served only to better the increase in full social and civil equality for LGBT persons. There are lessons that we can learn from National Coming Out Day as LGBT persons, allies, and secular Americans. Through National Coming Out Day we can learn the value that visibility has uplifted our place in society. We have seen that as the nation has gotten to know the LGBT people in their families and next door, the greater sympathy the American public have demonstrated against the Religious Right’s hyperbole and slander. We are also able to look at how far we have come, and yet, how much further we have to go. Lastly, we have seen how the cause of LGBT rights is in our direct purview as secular humanists. As Niose writes in Nonbeliever Nation, LGBT equality is where the Religious Right has utterly failed (despite spending large amounts of person-hours and obscene amounts of money).
The Religious Right’s kryptonite has been found through its clash with the LGBT movement. Despite appeals to tradition and improper appeals to less appropriate authority, when bullying derision is employed against people that we know and care about, we are less inclined to support former givens for the sake of aiding the maintenance of the magisteria. It may be difficult, but the call is upon us to be out as members of our community, and as allies of another. Come out, come out, wherever and whoever you are.
Jason Frye is the volunteer coordinator for the LGBT Humanist Council. He is president of the Humanist Association of San Diego.