National Coming Out Day: Is It Safe To Be LGBTQ?

Every year, members of the LGBTQ community and their allies around the globe observe October 11th as National Coming Out Day, a civil awareness day celebrating individuals who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer). This year marks the 26th anniversary of the National March On Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the first observance of National Coming Out Day.

Coming out (of the closet) is a reference for an LGBTQ person’s disclosure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBTQ people who have revealed, or no longer conceal, their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are considered “out,” openly gay, or openly LGBT.

While it is no one’s personal business, the idea behind coming out is that every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality. While it may be liberating, it may not be without consequence. Coming out to family, friends, colleagues and your community is not just a matter of facing ridicule or judgment. It is facing the fear of possibly losing your job, losing your friends, and even losing your life.

The harsh reality is that LGBTQ people are beaten and killed for being who they are and living their lives authentically. And it’s not just happening in third world countries but here in the United States. The murder rate of LGBTQ people is still at an all time high, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. LGBTQ people of color face the most severe violence and are nearly 2 times as likely to experience physical violence compared to white LGBTQ people. A 2012 NCAVP report found that 73% of all anti-LGBTQ victims were people of color, 55% of whom were African American.

The report also found that police violence and misconduct towards LGBT people is on the rise. Police hostility was up 18% in 2012 from 2011. Transgender people of color are 2 and half times more likely to experience physical violence by the police. Violence and misconduct by the police against LGBTQ people of color mirrors the larger trend of law enforcement disproportionately targeting African Americans and Latinos.

Violence LGBT people ranges from bullying in school to workplace harassment to actual physical violence. But it’s not just the fear of violence that makes coming out challenging but also potential workplace discrimination.

It’s a fact, in 29 states an employer can fire you or refuse to hire you solely for being gay and in 34 states for being transgender. This is something I covered extensively in the July 2011 cover story Black & Gay In Corporate America. Black professionals were candid in that story about their trepidation over how revealing their sexual orientation would affect relationships with family, friends, and associates outside the workplace.

Marriage quality may be gaining more ground statewide and legislative support, but the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is still stalled in Congress. The legislation, which has been around in some form since 1994, would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees. The Senate voted in favor of the legislation in 2013, but it is awaiting a House vote.

Let’s face it, the LGBTQ community is one of which our society still whispers, mocks, ignores, and, in extreme cases, vehemently rejects. And there remains an unspoken “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” code in the black community.

So for anyone who risks coming out this weekend, your courage is to be commended. Stand up loud and proud to live an authentic life.