Every October provides an opportunity for members, advocates, and allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community to come together in support of National Coming Out Day. Observing the significance of the civil rights movement and pushing further toward equality are the hallmarks of the October 11 holiday, in addition to celebrating coming out and bringing awareness to the diversity in the LGBT community. Beyond the ubiquitous pink triangles and rainbow flags, National Coming Out Day serves as a point of discussion for a number of topics related to LGBT peoplethat deserve attention and demand progress.
The date for National Coming Out Day is reflective of the anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which was held on October 11, 1987. The year prior to the march, the Supreme Court tried Bowers v. Hardwick about a Georgia sodomy law. The Court’s ruling not only upheld the criminalization of oral and anal sex in private among consenting individuals but framed the issue specifically around the sexual rights of gay men. Frustration was also mounting at the time due to the lack of governmental action surrounding the ballooning AIDS crisis. The march that ensued on that October 11th galvanized solidarity and inspired National Coming Out Day—not only in the United States but in other countries as well, including Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Celebrants of 2011’s National Coming Out Day in the United States honored pioneering gay rights leader Frank Kameny, who died the same day. Kameny was known for being the “first person to sue the federal government to challenge discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” in 1957 when he was fired from his job as a government astronomer. Sue Hyde, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s National Conference on LGBT Equality, commented, “As the LGBT movement began to win in legislatures, courtrooms, and in public opinion, Frank’s papers, artifacts and memories gained value. Frank Kameny wasn’t only a keeper of our history, Frank created our history. His life and legacy carry us into our future.”
Also coinciding with this year’s National Coming Out Day was the continuation of a California law designed to increase LGBT inclusive education. California Senate Bill 48 (SB48), otherwise known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, was signed into law July 13, 2011; the bill stipulates that among other inclusions of minority populations, “Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of . . . lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans . . . with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.” While Roland Palencia, executive director of Equality California, hailed the bill’s passing as a “monumental victory,” especially for LGBT youth, other state residents attempted to collect enough signatures to repeal the law through a June 2012 ballot referendum. On the October 12 deadline for submitting signatures, the “Stop SB48” group announced that it had failed to collect the 500,000 signatures required.
With the threat of the bill’s overturn quashed for now, many advocates and educators have hope that the FAIR Education Act will continue to be supported until its projected implementation during the 2015–16 school year, when textbooks will have been updated fully. A press release from the bill’s chief author, Senator Mark Leno, highlights one of the bill’s important intended effects: “Research indicates that students who learn about LGBT people find their school environments more accepting of LGBT youth. Students are also more likely to report that their LGBT peers are treated fairly at school—and that other types of peer-to-peer disrespect also declines—when LGBT people and issues are included in instructional materials.”
Elizabeth Flock, “National Coming Out Day Can Celebrate a Good Year,” Washington Post, 11 October 2011, accessed 12 October 2011, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/national-coming-out-day-celebrates-a-good-year/2011/10/11/gIQAiIRwcL_blog.html>.
Michel Martin, “Gay Rights Leader Dies on National Coming Out Day,” National Public Radio, 12 October 2011, accessed 14 October 2011, <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141267752>.
Avril Lighty, Remembering the Legacy of LGBT Leader Frank Kameny, 12 October 2011, accessed 14 October 2011, <http://www.civilrights.org/archives/2011/10/1254-kameny.html>.
California State Senate, Pupil Instruction: Prohibition of Discriminatory Content, SB 48, 112th Cong., 1st sess., accessed 10 November 2011, <http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/sen/sb_0001-0050/sb_48_bill_20110714_chaptered.html>.
Senator Mark Leno, “Sen. Leno Hails Governor’s Approval of a Landmark LGBT Inclusive Education Bill,” Press Release published 14 July 2011, accessed 14 October 2011 <http://sd03.senate.ca.gov/news/2011-07-14-sen-leno-hails-governor-s-approval-landmark-lgbt-inclusive-education-bill>; Adam Bink, Making It Official, Stop SB 48 Campaign Concedes Defeat, 12 October 2011, accessed 14 October 2011, <http://www.prop8trialtracker.com/2011/10/12/making-it-official-stop-sb-48-campaign-concedes-defeat/>.
Lisa Leff, “California Gay History: ‘Stop SB 48’ Referendum Faces Uphill Battle,” 3 September 2011, accessed 14 October 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/03/california-gay-history-st_n_947815.html>.
Leno, “Sen. Leno Hails Governor’s Approval of a Landmark LGBT Inclusive Education Bill.”