Thoughts on National Coming Out Week

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This is National Coming Out Week. And though we'll focus on celebrating the queer community, it's not a holiday.  And despite the fact that its whole existence is due to prejudice and hate, it's not a memorial.  

Frank Kameny

Image: dbking via Flickr

Pictured is the late gay rights activist, Frank Kameny, who passed away yesterday at age 86.

When I was in high school, I started a Gay and Straight Alliance and I remember how big a deal National Coming Out Week was, though back then I think it was only a day. This was our chance to establish our presence. In an environment where any queer aspects of the curriculum were laundered and the social scene was assumed to be heterosexual, it was also our chance to challenge the norm.  With our pins prominently displayed and posters strategically hung, I remember feeling like we were walking into battle.  Long before "fierce" was campy, it was butch; and we were fierce.

As my aspirations to effect change have grown, so has the scale of my efforts.  The cynic in me says that efforts targeted at "small numbers of people" have no significant results.  The egoist in me says that my time is better spent elsewhere.  And yet I continue to advocate for grassroots change.  It turns out my hypocrisy is not only limited to telling my patients to exercise regularly.

A fellow activist and organizer once counseled me when I was complaining about how tired and burned out I was. "You need some inspiration," he said.

Last year, the business school gave out rainbow pins during National Coming Out week. By the end of the week, nearly every business student had one.  I didn't think much of it until a desperately closeted friend of mine said, "You know, seeing all these people walking around with pins -- even, like, the big footbally guys -- makes me feel like I could really come out and it would be ok."  Talk about warm and fuzzy.  Inspired by that, this year all of the queer organizations on campus came together for a button campaign.

In high school things were pretty black and white for me: you either take a stand for justice or you don't. These days I feel overwhelmed by the complexities of everything. Now I'm concerned about unintentional consequences, participating in programs that are more colonial than empowering, marketing my message so that it can be heard, taking leadership without taking power, and building smart alliances without selling out.  But this button campaign... it builds a sense of community, it creates a sense of safety, and it establishes a presence. It's simple and it pleases me.

This is a cross-post from On Race, Privilege, and Medicine.

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