By Shanea D. Leonard
You know, I do not think you ever stop “coming out.” I realized that some years ago when it occurred to me on the sixteenth billionth time, I told someone my truth. It was clear at that moment that for the rest of my life I would be revealing my identity to someone new. Every time I negotiate a new connection to friends, meet new potential suitors, or even reunite with long loss family members, it is like the first time all over again. Heck sometimes even renting a car is another potential coming out party. Standing in your truth is a consistent and constant dance of navigating how secure you are with who you are, juxtaposed with your audience’s potential reactions. And for some people, this can be as scary as it is liberating. The thought that anyone would have the space or opportunity to weigh in on the autonomy of your existence can be a daunting place to be in. This is why being queer, in any way, is such a unique experience for all who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is the reason October 11th, National Coming Out Day, is such an important day for me and the queer community.
What is National Coming Out Day?
National Coming Out Day saw its inaugural launch in 1988 when its founders, Jean Leary and Robert Eichsberg, initiated the celebration. It was a response to the outcry of more than 500,000 people who participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights the year prior. That march was a pivotal moment in the movement towards equality for LGBTQIA+ people that continues to this day. The work of decriminalizing the existence of LGBTQIA+ people is a perpetual climb in legislation, health care, civil rights and many other faucets of life. Even in 2021, there is still no federal law prohibiting discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and services for LGBTQIA+ people.
Furthermore, because of the influence of some conservative faith traditions, many LGBTQIA+ folks often face even more brutal realties within society such as homelessness, unemployment, and inadequate healthcare due to harmful doctrine and practices. Particularly for those who are transgender, negotiating if, how, and when to “come out” could be a costly mistake if navigating wrongly. The reality is who you share your truth with is a gift you are giving them of seeing you in your wholeness. What is sad is when it’s not viewed in that manner. Thus, coming out and being seen in one’s truth is a radical act of courage and strength. Especially in areas that tend to be more conservative, to be out and open means you may even be risking your life to live in that truth.
The Importance of Allyship
I will never forget the seemingly major times in my life when I had to muster the courage to stand fully in who I am. I was never sure if I would be received well or disowned altogether. Fortunate enough for me, I have been surrounded with chosen family who have always loved me because of who I am and never in spite of it. I have been afforded a circle of friends, some family, and co-workers who have not only loved on me but have been advocates for me and others like me. Their fortitude of allyship even in my absence has been a comfort and a crutch when this hasn’t been the reality with other folks. I am thankful that after having officially come out over fifteen years ago, that I can now walk alongside others as they too take their journey. Coming out is a process and an individual road that is different for everyone. However, what is invaluable to each person is the comfort of knowing that acceptance and inclusion are made readily available.
We need to remember that Inclusion is about making space for everyone to feel welcome. Therefore, if someone chooses to come out, they do not have to feel the fear of alienation or discrimination. Inclusion affords everyone the right to self-identify and stand securely in the knowledge of knowing that there is a place for them. This is true in society, in family structures, and in the workplace. We encourage you to take a stand for inclusion, not just during the month of PRIDE in June, but all year long. Show your employees, benefactors, and clients that your business is enriched by the diversity it has. Consider, posting on your website and social media visible support. Create affinity spaces where LGBTQIA+ employees feel safe and welcomed. Raise public awareness of the mental, social, and emotion value to living in authenticity. In essence make inclusion a definite and constant call to action embedded in the ethos of who your organization is.
…on this National Coming Out Day, The Everyday Inclusionist celebrates the rich diversity that is the LGBTQIA+ community and we honor those trailblazing pioneers who made this day possible. Moreover, we salute those who are still finding their way to freedom of self every day as they traverse their path to “coming out”. We exist to help individuals, companies, and organizations do their part to ensure that all may freely live in all that is their truth.
Happy Coming Out Day EVERYONE!!!!
Shanea D. Leonard (they/them) has spent the last 15 years working in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion in various ways. They have done trainings and consultations for law makers, faith institutions, and in the private sector. Shanea has been an outspoken voice for justice concerns particularly around LGBTQIA+ concerns and racial justice issues. A native of Philadelphia by way of Pittsburgh, they have also spent time in reproductive justice and community organizing. Shanea has received several awards for their work and is an often sought-after keynoter, consultant, and writer. For the past 14 years, Shanea has also served as a ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Shanea resides in Louisville, Kentucky but travels extensively for the cause of liberation of marginalized people. They live their life by the mantra of Assata Shakur which sates, “…it is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win…we have nothing to lose but our chains!” And the scriptural passage of Micah 6:8 which states, “The Lord has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”