Lesbian Notions - October 11 - National Coming Out Day - is Just Around the Corner

With the national Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepherd Act (outlawing hate crimes based on sexual orientation) winding their way through Congress, and the 2008 presidential campaign heating up an unprecedented 18 months before election day, it is more imperative than ever for us to be visible, for our voices to be heard, and for our vision of a country that honors diversity and inclusion to be shared.
I remember when National Coming Out Day was established 19 years ago ?? a year after the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The momentum from that convergence of 1 million of us in D.C. lifted up many in our community.
Volunteering at the march, I was working with the media. I was lucky enough to be on the truck that carried all the TV cameras and newspaper photographers ?? it rolled along just ahead of the actual march. The sight of so many of us filling the streets of D.C. with our voices, banners, signs, and, most importantly, our commitment is something that will stay with me forever.
Without a doubt, the 1987 march was a watershed event for us. Lesbians and gay men actually worked together to organize their communities. Twenty years later, the idea of lesbians and gay men working side by side isn?t that astounding, but back then it was the exception to the rule.
But with the deaths of so many from AIDS, the increasing politicization of the community and our issues, and a White House that hated us (that hasn?t changed), 1987 was a time for the men and women in our community to find a way to work together. Now, not working together is the exception to the rule.
The progress of the last 20 years far exceeds what came before. We couldn?t have gotten to 1987 if not for that first gathering of ?homosexual picketers? in front of the White House in 1965, or the Stonewall Riots of 1969, or the first major national march and rally held on October 14, 1979, that drew 100,000 of us from across the country.
But what has happened in our community over the past two decades is unprecedented growth that touches all of us, whether we live in the great heartland of our country or in the sprawling urban meccas.
LGBT community centers keep popping up all over the country. More than 150 centers serve millions of us. According to the National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Centers, the latest one to open, in February of this year, is right down the Hudson River from me in Kingston, N.Y. Its founding was spearheaded by Ginny Apuzzo, a veteran activist in our community who was the first executive director of the National Gay Task Force.
Back then, ?lesbian? wasn?t part of the title. ?Gay? was considered the catch-all phrase for anything other than straight, and lesbian visibility wasn?t an issue for the folks ? mostly men ? making the national-type decisions. Political lesbians were working on our issues on our own. Some called themselves separatists; others of us just didn?t want to deal with male energy. I have to hand it to Ginny, though ? strong, articulate, politically astute, she took up the challenge of working with gay men in the 1970s head on and never looked back.
Every state and the District of Columbia (which really should be a state) has a statewide organization. I?ve always considered statewide groups of any kind to be the linchpin of political organizing. They help their local communities organize and bring the fruits of their labor to bear on state government. When it comes to national action, statewide organizations can mobilize the grassroots and work in tandem with our national organizations.
Speaking of national organizations, in addition to HRC and NGLTF, there?s a plethora of groups that focus on politics, the media, health care, the military, and youth, among other issues. Consider what we?ve established and supported as a community since 1987.
One such lavender-ribbon group is the Victory Fund. Founded in 1991, the Fund has grown into the nation?s largest LGBT political action committee. It has evolved into a powerhouse that trains LGBT candidates, helps fund their campaigns, and provides support as our candidates transition from running for office to actually governing. According to the Victory Fund, there are out LGBT elected officials in every state of the nation, except the Dakotas, South Carolina, Louisiana, and West Virginia. Since all politics is local and it?s on the local level that change really happens, we?re light years ahead of where we were 20 years ago.
We now have LGBT foundations, such as Gill and Arcus, which are funneling millions of dollars into LGBT activism throughout the country. The Point Foundation is providing scholarships for marginalized LGBT teens so they can go to college. The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice funds lesbians and our allies who are fighting oppression.
And we have LGBT professional organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Chamber of Commerce, and yes, for those of us who value the health and well-being of our pets, with perhaps a queer twist to treatment, there?s even a National Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association.
Coming out is a powerful tool for us. Just look what happened after a million of us went to D.C. in 1987!
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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