When I first sat down to write a post on National Coming Out Day this year, one of the things I started thinking about was how much it seems to have changed since starting in 1988. I first heard of it in my freshman year in college, and most of the campus activities focused on people who wanted to come out to their families. That year, I began my longstanding appreciation for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the support that they can provide for people on all sides of those conversations.
In addition to the individual focus, though, there was also a broader social aspect of hoping to change the climate so that more people in the public eye would come out. It was the mid-’90s, and aside from a few athletes (Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis) and a handful of actors, most of whom weren’t out during their lifetimes (Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift), the broader landscape was pretty empty when it came to public figures who were known to be queer.
So on the one hand, I was all ready to embrace an ‘it gets better‘ type of post; when it comes to public visibility, things have changed tremendously. In only a decade and a half, we’ve got so many out actors, artists and musicians in our society that it’d be hard to even list them all.
Then I read this post over on Autostraddle, about Orlando Cruz being the first male boxer to come out – ever. There are still no out athletes within the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL, though a few have come out after retirement. There are certainly gay athletes who are currently competing, and allies who are speaking out for inclusivity, but the locker room closets are still very, very full. It’s important to celebrate how far we’ve come in the last 16 years, but we’ve got a long ways to go, yet.
I’m looking forward to the day when our society incorporates diversity in sexual orientation seamlessly, and when we can see ‘coming out’ in this way as a strange, archaic custom. Until then, I’m going to appreciate the fact that since we still really need National Coming Out Day, I’m glad we have it.