The perfectly natural national obsession with the government shutdown has eclipsed most other events, including the fact that today is the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, an annual celebration to publicly disclose being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.” This year’s theme is “Coming Out Still Matters.”
The last decade has shown the rapidly increasing acceptance of LGBT people partly because heterosexuals have learned that co-workers, friends, and members of their family are LGBT. The result of this education is a growing understanding that everyone deserves equal rights. Polling data show that many people who changed their minds and now back gay marriage made this decision because they have a friend, acquaintance or relative who is gay.
Last March high-profile conservative Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) reversed his position on marriage equality, approving of it two years after his son came out as gay. Former vice-president Dick Cheney had earlier expressed LGBT support because his second daughter, Mary, is an openly married lesbian with two children. Portman was followed in his support of marriage equality two months later by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who said that knowing a lesbian couple had formed her positive opinion about same-sex marriage.
Wendy and Tom Montgomery are two more people who changed their mind about marriage equality because their 15-year-old son. Five years ago, the couple campaigned for the passage of California’s anti-LGBT Proposition 8, since overturned because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June. Now Wendy Montgomery is leading a movement among her fellow Mormons to push The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach that homosexuality isn’t a sin.
Eighteen months ago, Montgomery read her son’s journal and discovered that he is gay. “It made me question everything,” she said. “I’m looking at this 13-year-old boy who is totally innocent and pure and an amazing kid and I think, ‘Either everything I know about homosexuality is wrong, or my son is not really gay. And, he’s obviously gay.’ I kind of had to unlearn everything I had learned.”
A documentary made by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University follows their story. The organization works with conservative religious families to help them navigate their doctrines while also accepting their gay children. Jordan Montgomery says in the documentary he had suicidal thoughts and was mortified of his parents disowning him.
October represents the 20th LGBT History Month. I personally celebrated the month by marrying my partner of 44 years. After the U.S. Supreme Court gave some benefits to those who marry in a state that recognizes marriage equality, we decided to travel to a state where we could legally marry. Because Oregon doesn’t not recognize LGBT marriage, we could not be married in our hometown where our friends could attend the ceremony. Instead we drove almost 600 miles to gain the same legal benefits that opposite-sex couples have readily available to them.
The ceremony was a wonderful event because it was in the presence of highly supportive people. Yet we always wonder if some people around us are disapproving, a distinct difference from people who enjoy opposite-sex marriages. I’m sure that none of them thinks about the possibility that someone might disapprove of their getting married on the basis of personal beliefs.
We are fortunate to live in a state adjacent to one that recognizes legal marriage equality: this is not true for people living in half the states of this country. And even with marriage equality in 14 states, New Jersey being the most recent because of a judicial decision, more LGBT people suffer from the danger of being fired from their jobs because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Only 21 states outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and even fewer, 17, based on gender identity or expression. Also tragic are the LGBT people living in more than half the states who cannot legally adopt their partners’ children. Wikipedia has a superb, up-to-date view of LGBT rights—and lack of rights.
Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the New Jersey State Superior Court defined the problem of keeping rights from LGBT people:
“There is no ‘public interest’ in depriving a class of New Jersey residents their constitutional rights while appellate review is pursued. On the contrary, granting a stay would simply allow the State to continue to violate the equal protection rights of New Jersey same-sex couples, which can hardly be considered a public interest.”
Even with her ruling, same-sex couples married in New Jersey, permissible starting on October 24, are ineligible for federal tax and retirement benefits and for spousal coverage under Medicare. In addition, a person cannot sponsor a New Jersey spouse for noncitizen’s residency.
Two women trying to get married in their home state of North Carolina are 79-year-olds Carole Kaiser and Mary Burson (below), who raised eight children and had 13 grandchildren during their 40 years together. Their reverend and approximately 70 other supporters accompanied them to the Henderson County Register of Deeds officer where they were refused a marriage license.
Many same-sex couples talk about how they feel differently after they are legally married. My partner and I also discussed this issue. After an interesting discussion, we came to the conclusion that we now feel that the law cannot separate us or damage us because of our relationship, as it might have done before. We LGBT people need the same certainty of non-discrimination in every part of our lives.
One small caveat about coming out. This is not for every LGBT person, as Preston Mitchum pointed out in The Atlantic. A person’s demographics—racial, geographic, financial, etc.—can make a declaration of gender identity and sexual orientation dangerous. I largely concealed my lesbianism for 23 years because I feared losing my job; my partner did so for longer than that. Coming out can result in workplace discrimination, family rejection, physical violence, and unfair criminalization. We always need to remember that staying in the proverbial closet may be more difficult than coming out.
A fellow blogger occasionally writes about heroes. My hero for this Coming Out Day is Joe Bell, Jadin Bell’s father, who started a cross-country journey after bullying caused his gay son to commit suicide. After Bell left La Grande (OR) last spring, his planned two-year walk to New York became an inspiration as he raised awareness about LGBT youth with many individuals and groups.
Bell’s journey abruptly ended two nights ago after he was struck and killed by a semi-truck in the Colorado plains. “I didn’t want Jadin’s death to be in vain,” Bell had said. “We need to look at people for who they are and not who we think they should be.” Hopefully, Bell’s message will help make that change. As the last post on his Facebook page stated, “Making headway, one step at a time.”
Today is also International Day of the Girl! Go to their website for an awesome graphic of their declaration.
Last night, the House GOP leadership offered to vote as early as today to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks and negotiate to end the 11-day government shutdown. The House also plans to meet tomorrow morning. So maybe raise the debt ceiling for a few days but still hold the country hostage.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) gave the best assessment of the GOP offer: “I was surprised that the House decided to deal only with the debt limit and not with the continued closure of government. I think that we have to deal with both issues, and we need to do so quickly.”
Today Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Fox network that the GOP is to blame for the ongoing debacle: “We … shut down the government on a fool’s errand that we were not going to accomplish.” His comments were made shortly after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke at the conservative Values Voter where he referred to protesters as “Obama’s paid political operatives.” A recent poll shows Cruz at a 14-percent favorability rating.
After a meetiing with President Obama today, some Republican comments show that GOP leaders are tired of the blame and may find a way to open the government without too much embarrassment for their bad behavior. Collins, however, said that it was a “good exchange” but “an inconclusive exchange.” We’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile members of the Congress are still being paid and still using their taxpayer-funded gym.